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Robo-signing: No real victims?

With a multibillion-dollar victims fund at stake, state attorneys work on a deal with mortgage servicers.

By MSN Money Partner Mar 18, 2011 2:57PM

This post comes from Marilyn Lewis of MSN Money.

Was robo-signing such an outrage if there were actually no victims?

That's the question facing the 50 state attorneys general as they close in on a two-part deal with mortgage lenders over the robo-signing scandal.

In a surprise development, a Federal Reserve consumer advisory panel last week concluded that there really were no victims from lenders' shoddy foreclosure practices.

The Fed's report isn't yet public. The story only saw the light of day because an enterprising reporter at The Huffington Post, Shahien Nasiripour, talked with sources on the panel who said that "a months-long internal investigation into abusive mortgage practices by the Federal Reserve found no wrongful foreclosures."

The panel's report says people who lost their homes from bad bank foreclosure practices would have lost them anyway. They were behind on their mortgage payments.

Consumer advocates on the panel disagreed, however, arguing that "the definition (of victim) should be expanded to include foreclosures in which the wrong party brought the foreclosure action or cases that involve significant errors in foreclosure documents, like an inflated past-due amount, for example." Their point was that foreclosures could have been avoided among people behind on payments.

Our story so far
American Public Media recaps how the scandal started last fall:

Employees or contractors of several major banks have testified in court cases that they signed, and in some cases backdated, thousands of certifying documents for foreclosures. Major banks including Bank of America Corp., JPMorgan Chase Co. and Ally Financial Inc.'s GMAC Mortgage have halted foreclosures at some point because of flawed documents.

Some big banks halted foreclosures while they investigated their servicing operations. (Servicers collect your mortgage payment and start foreclosure when they don't get it.)

The federal government didn't seem inclined to move against the servicers, so the 50 state attorneys general waded into the game on the side of consumers.

Many aspects of banking and mortgage-lending are regulated by the states. That gives state attorneys power to sue. With that leverage, they've been talking for months with the mortgage servicers, trying to come up with a two-part settlement.

Part One would make mortgage providers agree to clean up sloppy foreclosure practices and do modifications more quickly. On this front, the AGs, along with some federal agencies, last week delivered. Here's their 27-page list of demands (posted at Scribd) for improvements at mortgage-servicing companies.

A pile of cash
Part Two is the tough part. It involves requiring banks and servicers to establish a 9/11-type victims fund -- $20 billion and $30 billion are numbers that have been tossed around.


But if there really are no victims, should there a victims fund?

Possibly. Tom Miller, the Iowa attorney general who has led the states' efforts, told HousingWire last fall about hopes for such a fund:

"We view this as a chance to solve some or much of this problem that has built over the last three years," Miller said. "We want to figure out a way that leaves the situation a lot better than when the mess started."

A recent Washington Post editorial says the AGs and the Obama administration want a fund "to help write down the principal balances of the 22.5 percent of U.S. homebuyers who owe more than the market value of their homes."

The Post objects:

The prospect of qualifying for a principal reduction might induce some borrowers to quit paying, known as "strategic defaulting." Twenty billion dollars' worth of extra mortgage relief is probably too little to make a major impact on the three-quarters of a trillion dollars in negative home equity. But it might be enough to trigger strategic defaulting -- and sow frustration and resentment among homeowners who don't get a piece of the action.

It's a tough call. As The Wall Street Journal pointed out recently, "some economists warn that rising numbers of underwater borrowers will drag on housing markets and the economy for years unless more is done to help them."

Readers, what do you think?

Even if there are no victims of robo-signing, should the banks pay a penalty -- like a punitive judgment in a court case -- to discourage them from running roughshod over borrowers again?

Would using bank money to bail out underwater homeowners pull us out of the housing swamp? Even if it's unfair to those who've kept up their payments, would be it worth it to put this recession behind us?

Or would it just make things worse by encouraging more strategic defaults?


More from MSN Money:

Mar 19, 2011 6:50PM
I hate to disappoint this writer of the article I just read. Majority of people were like me, they asked there mortgagor for a two month extension, but instead the bank started sending them foreclosure letters when they were not behind, but one month. Then the banks start talking people into half payments for 6 months. At the end of six months, you are now the three months behind and they foreclose on you. Well not only did BancorpSouth did this to me, they wanted me to commit perjury on my account and say I had more income than what I had. Now that HUD paid them off, because I surrendered the house and had an FHA approved loan; this bank still wants me to pay for bad accounting that they done on my account. They did not put money in my escrow, but didn't mind paying their interest on the loan. They say I still owe on the loan. MY foot!  My loan was protected through FHA and I had a guarantee through the insurance I paid monthly that all the money would be paid.
And to answer the question about ROBO signing, yes they did that too. I have no record of all my paperwork where the BancorpSouth  loan underwriter or anyone else from this bank sign the original loan papers.

Mar 21, 2011 6:38AM

There is a difference between the fact there have been few erroneous foreclosures and saying that there are no victims.


It is never OK to present a falsified document to a court of law.

All citizens are victims if this practice is allowed to occur.


The article discusses cases where the wrong party has foreclosed - if it is the wrong party then there are victims

Mar 19, 2011 7:57PM

Yes, the banks should pay a penalty, and yes, it should be punitive enough to motivate them to fly right in the future. Enough with rich/powerful organizations and people getting away with what would land the rest of us in jail. It's a safe bet my bank wouldn't accept post dated documents (checks) from me with a smile.


If the worry is strategic defaults, how about targeting this money to people like me who have kept current on mortgage payments despite significant hardship (husband became disabled & last year we spent 30% of my gross on medical bills with more to come). We can't afford our house payment but don't qualify for the current relief programs because we've given up nearly everything to keep current.

Aug 18, 2012 1:50AM
Your right! Absolutely it's different..
Mar 19, 2011 2:32AM

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