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Mortgage fraud crackdown planned

State and federal officials are joining forces to combat rampant mortgage relief scams, federal and state officials announced Tuesday.

The offensive against fraudulent foreclosure-prevention and mortgage-modification companies, named “Operation Stolen Hope,” was announced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz and Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto in Las Vegas.

“No state has felt the full force of the foreclosure crisis like Nevada has,” Reid said. “As foreclosures rise, so do the instances of fraud.”

Mortgage modification companies have proliferated to the point that the state doesn’t have the manpower to police all of them without the support of federal agencies, Cortez Masto said. She praised Reid’s efforts to bring national attention to the problem of fraud in the industry.

Fraudulent mortgage and foreclosure operations are not just small-time criminal operations anymore, Cortez Masto said.

Some mortgage scammers have offshore bank accounts, fake IDs and false Social Security cards. Other criminal activities have been tied to some of the same groups, including child prostitution.

“At least one individual was on the United Kingdom’s top Mafia 10 most-wanted list,” the state attorney general added.

Attorneys general from about 25 states are taking part in the enforcement effort.

Nevada has indicted nine allegedly fraudulent mortgage companies in the last 60 to 90 days. Seven civil complaints have also been filed by the state attorney general’s office, Cortez Masto said.

More criminal mortgage fraud prosecutions are likely, with 154 consumer complaints already filed by Nevadans. The majority of the fraudulent operators are unlicensed and have no real estate or brokers’ credentials, she said.

The FTC is planning to issue new rules for foreclosure relief and mortgage modification companies in the next 30 days “to protect homeowners,” Leibowitz said.

The commission may opt to pass rules forbidding businesses to take up-front fees from borrowers.

Typically, the hallmark for mortgage modification scams is a request for up-front payment, Leibowitz said.

Contact reporter Valerie Miller at vmiller @lvbusinesspress.com or 702-387-5286.

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