"Look closely at the paperwork if you ever get foreclosed on. It could pay off," says Alexander Eichler at The Huffington Post. It sure did for Lynn Szymoniak, a struggling homeowner who rose to national prominence by exposing a "robo-signing" scandal in which big banks forged documents to push through thousands of foreclosures. With Szymoniak's help, five banks eventually agreed to a "landmark" $25 billion settlement with the government, which was formally concluded this week. As a whistle-blower in a government investigation, Szymoniak was entitled to a chunk of the settlement — a pretty huge chunk actually, coming out to $18 million. Here, a guide to Szymoniak's journey:
How did Szymoniak suss out the fraud?
It all started during Szymoniak's struggle to save her house in Florida from foreclosure. A lawyer and fraud investigator, Szymoniak smelled something fishy about the paperwork her bank was sending her. She dove into reams of documents in other foreclosures, and uncovered the robo-signing fraud.
What is robo-signing?
A method for forging documents, essentially. "The documents underpinning homeowners' mortages are sometimes missing or nonexistent," says CBS News. Banks need those documents to proceed with a foreclosure, and some took to creating the missing paperwork out of thin air. Szymoniak discovered that bank employees in a mortgage "sweat shop" in Georgia "were using the name Linda Green" over and over again to sign fake mortgage documents, says Rick Rothacker at Reuters.
What did Szymoniak do next?
She informed the government — and then went on 60 Minutes to tell her story, becoming the face of the robo-signing controversy. She received $18 million for her role in a $95 million settlement with five banks, the largest single settlement in the $25 billion package.
This is a huge victory for fraud victims, right?
Some say the settlement isn't nearly enough. Most of the thousands of victims in the deal will receive a reimbursement of $2,000 each. About one million homeowners will see their mortgages refinanced. And while $25 billion sounds like a lot, it's a "drop in the bucket" for the banks, Neil Barofsky, a former Treasury official, tells CBS News.