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Mortgage Fraud Suspicion Rises 88% Since Last Year
The amount of mortgage loan fraud suspicious activity reports filed in the second quarter of this year is 88 percent greater than the amount filed in the second quarter of 2010.
Financial institutions filed 29,558 mortgage loan fraud suspicious activity reports in the second quarter of this year, up from 15,727 last year, according to a report released Wednesday by the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network. The report states the majority of filings involved loans stemming from the height of the real estate bubble.
Eighty-one percent of reports of suspicious activity during the second quarter of the year involve actions completed prior to 2008, and 63 percent involve actions completed at least four years ago.
“We’re continuing to see a large number of [suspicious activity reports] filed on activity that occurred more than two years ago, an indication that financial institutions are uncovering fraud as they sift through defaulted mortgages,” James H. Freis, Jr., director of the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network said.
“But we also continue to see indications of ongoing mortgage fraud activities. FinCEN’s report released today raises awareness of the common scams that homeowners and lenders may encounter when arranging or modifying home financing,” Freis said.
In order to determine recent trends in mortgage fraud, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network specifically examined suspicious activity reported within 90 days of the loan filing. For the quarter, 1,825 suspicious activity reports were filed within this time period.
The percentage of suspicious filings reported up to 90 days from activity date to reporting date dropped from 14 percent in the second quarter of 2010 to 6 percent in the second quarter of 2011.
Among recent suspicious activity reports, the greatest percentage – 30 percent – were reports of misrepresentation of income, occupancy, debt, and assets.
Following this category encompassing 19 percent of reports were debt elimination scams, which include fabricated documents and payment methods submitted by customers and third parties.
Social security number fraud (11 percent), short sale fraud (6 percent), and identity theft (5 percent) were the next three highest categories.
Suspicions of appraisal fraud came in last among the categories listed in the report with 4 percent of filings.
The states with the highest number of reports of suspicion were California, Florida, and New York. The highest number of reports per capita occurred in California, Florida, and Nevada
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THE REMAX COLLECTION
Federal Reserve stimulus may connect with White House refinance tweaks
by JON PRIOR
The latest effort by the Federal Reserve to keep interest rates down through the purchase of longer-term Treasurys and agency mortgage-backed securities may be coordinated with recent White House efforts to boost refinancing activity.
Sarah Bloom Raskin, a governor on the Federal Reserve board, said in a speech Monday at the University of Maryland that recent monetary actions – such as the first two rounds of quantitative easing and the ongoing minimal interest rates at the Fed’s borrowing window – have kept interest rates for consumers at record lows. But they’ve failed to translate into economic growth.
“Although these monetary policy tools have been successful in pushing down interest rates across the maturity spectrum, the magnitude of the transmission to economic growth and employment has been somewhat more muted than I might have expected,” Raskin said.
Analysts at Bank of America (BAC: 6.60 +4.60%) Merrill Lynch caught on in a research note released Monday. They pointed out the timing of the Fed action with President Obama’s recent mention of the need to refinance underwater borrowers into more affordable mortgage payments.
“If the Fed acts on a standalone and uncoordinated policy basis, where the many frictions associated with refinancing are not specifically addressed, it is difficult to see what the benefits of the Fed policy might be. Therefore, the risk of coordinated action appears high to us,” the analysts said.
Raskin said an overhang of housing inventory and the continued lack of access to credit for borrowers and businesses continues to thwart any Fed action. In August, the Obama administration called for plans to address both: a new way to sell and possibly rent out the supply of REO held by the government and a new plan to refinance Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac borrowers out of negative equity.
“The slow progress in repairing and restructuring households’ balance sheets may also be lowering the normal responsiveness of consumer spending to a decline in market interest rates,” Raskin said. “In particular, lenders continue to maintain relatively tight terms and standards on credit cards and, to a lesser extent, other consumer loans.”
The most likely action to help some of the 11 million underwater borrowers in the U.S. would be changing the fundamentals of the Home Affordable Refinance Program. More than 800,000 Fannie and Freddie borrowers moved through the program so far, and Federal Housing Finance Agency Acting Director Edward DeMarco said the regulator is considering changes.
But the analysts at BofAML said such a move faces many challenges. HARP loans are shrinking, providing fewer fees to lenders. Loan-to-value ratios are moving higher due to still falling home prices. Average FICO scores are dropping, and borrowers are showing less in savings, which would make a refinance less likely. Representation and warranty claims will need to be waived as well, which in the current climate, may be a long shot, many claim.
“While the Fed is intent on improving the rate incentive for these borrowers, virtually every other factor that contributes to prepayments is worsening,” the analysts said.
Write to Jon Prior.