SEC Names Ex-Credit Suisse Employees in Subprime Fraud Scheme

Four
former investment bankers and traders from the Credit Suisse Group were charged
by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Wednesday violating multiple
sections of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 while trading in subprime
mortgage bonds
.  The indictments allege
the four engaged in a complex scheme to fraudulently overstate the prices of $3
billion of the bonds during the height of the subprime credit crisis. 

The
four are Kareem Serageldin, the group’s former global head of structured credit
trading; David Higgs, former head of hedge trading; and two traders, Faisal Siddiqui and Salmaan
Siddiqui.  According to the complaint
filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, Serageldin
oversaw a significant portion of Credit Suisse’s structured products and
mortgage-related businesses. The traders reported to Higgs and Serageldin.

The SEC charges that the four
deliberately ignored specific market information showing that prices of the
subject bonds were declining sharply, pricing them instead in a way that
allowed Credit Suisse to achieve fictional profits, and, through the traders,
changing bond prices in order to hit daily and monthly profit target and cover
losses.  The scheme was driven in part by
the prospect of lavish year-end bonuses and promotions.  The scheme hit its peak at the end of 2007.

“The
stunning scale of the illegal mismarking in this case was surpassed only by the
greed of the senior bankers behind the scheme,” said Robert Khuzami, Director
of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement and a Co-Chair of the newly formed Residential
Mortgage-Backed Securities Working Group
, “At precisely the moment investors
and market participants were urgently seeking accurate information about
financial institutions’ exposure to the subprime market, the senior bankers
falsely and selfishly inflated the value of more than $3 billion in
asset-backed securities in order to protect their bonuses and, in one case,
protect a highly coveted promotion.”  

SEC
explained that it was not charging Credit Suisse in the scheme because the
wrongdoing was isolated; Credit Suisse reported the violations to the SEC,
voluntarily terminated the four, implemented internal controls to prevent
additional misconduct, and cooperated with SEC in the investigation.  The SEC said that the four named in the
complaint also cooperated in the investigation and that assistance was provided
by the FBI, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York
and the United Kingdom Financial Services Authority.

…(read more)

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The State of the Mortgage Industry According to MBA

The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) provided its annual
assessment of The State of the Mortgage Industry in a press conference Wednesday
afternoon.  Michael Young, MBA Chairman
said that the states that have been hardest hit by the housing crisis are and
will continue to deal with the aftermath but there are signs that in much of
the nation 2012 will bring a recovering market.

One bright spot, Young said, is that the turmoil in the
single family market has actually helped the multi-family sector; the rental
market has tightened and more lenders have moved into the sector, especially
life insurance companies.  In the
residential market, he said, the one topic that is discussed everywhere is the
lack of financing and what can be done about it.

David H. Stevens, MBA President and CEO said that lack of
financing
can be traced to a single factor, market uncertainty.  Part of it is uncertainty about international
markets and how they might ultimately impact the domestic situation but there
is also a tremendous amount of uncertainty about regulation.  Dodd-Frank, he said, has 300 regulations that
have yet to be fully promulgated and the new Consumer Financial Protection
Bureau (CFPB) and other regulators all have or are considering regulations
about how loans can be provided and serviced. 
There is uncertainty surrounding repurchases as well and while MBA
believes lenders should be held accountable for their mistakes, they should not
be held accountable for the loans performance if it failed solely due to
changing economic circumstances.  For
that reason MBA supports a time limit on the repurchase obligation.

Addressing three areas in particular, he said, would
decrease a lot of the insecurity.  New
regulations regarding Qualified Mortgages (QM) and Qualified Residential
Mortgages (QRM) are eminent and QM will in effect, define what loans get
made.  Mortgages which do not meet QM as
laid out by CRPB will simply not get made because lenders will feel there is
too much liability involved.   MBA supports certain parts of the QM such as
the requirement for full documentation but other parts such as the point and
fee cap lack flexibility and will disproportionately affect the pricing of small
loans.  

Most of all, he said, the proposed regulations are too general.  There needs to be specificity in the
underwriting standards such as in the definition of what constitutions “ability
to repay.”  Without a bright line in the
regulations that enable a safe harbor for lenders, he said, any lending is
going to be restricted on the margins and any loans that fall into the gap
between QM and QRM will see significant price adjustments to reflect the
liability.

While MBA also supports risk retention and much of the
intent of the QRM such as eliminating no-docs and interest only and other
exotic loans, regulators are going beyond the intent of Congress by adding debt
to income and loan-to-value ratios.  The
requirement for a 20 percent down payment will create a dual class system under
QRM, with lower income borrowers, unable to amass the down payment; forced into
FHA loans while there will be a private market for upper income borrowers.  Stevens said MBA will be “very aggressive” in
making sure these changes to QRM are pulled back.

Another area of uncertainty is the 50-state settlement with
servicers
.  Borrowers don’t care about
their servicers until they get into trouble with their mortgages but then the
multiple state and federal laws that govern servicing cause stress for the
borrowers and for servicers and investors as well.  The settlement may provide a framework for
national standards which would remove some of the uncertainty in this area.  In the same vein, Stevens said that President
Obama’s new fraud task force must be careful to avoid redundancy with other
investigations and carefully measure how it impacts borrowers or it could
create trepidation among lenders and further reluctance to lend.  

The present structure of the mortgage market with 90 percent
of lending having some government involvement through the GSEs or FHA is simply
unsustainable, Stevens said.  The private
sector must be brought back into the market and the major players in the
industry are close to agreement on what the future of the secondary market
should look like.  This is very close to
a model proposed by MBA some years ago which would have the following
characteristics:

  • Transactions would be funded with private
    capital from a broad range of sources.
  • The federal government should have a role in
    promoting stability and liquidity in the core mortgage market. This role should be in the form of an
    explicit credit guarantee on a class of mortgage-backed securities and the
    guarantee would be paid for by risk-based fees.
  • Taxpayers and the system itself should be
    protected through limits on the mortgage products covered, the types of
    activities undertaken, strong risk-based capital requirement, and actuarially
    fair payments into a federal insurance fund.

In answer to a reporter’s question about the chances of
President Obama’s streamlined refinancing program being approved, Stevens said
it would be an uphill climb.  FHA is
legislatively limited to loans with a maximum LTV of 97.5 percent so to go as
high as 140 percent which Steven’s said he expected the legislation to attempt
will require full approval of Congress.

Jay Brinkmann, Senior Vice President and Chief Economists said
he expects jobs to be created at about a 150,000 per month pace in 2012 but
this will be uneven by location and dependent on an individual’s education.  The length of unemployment hit a record high
in November and persons with a high school education or less are remaining
unemployed longer than those with a college degree.

According to Brinkmann, mortgage originations will drop from
$1.26 trillion in 2011 to $992 billion in 2012 with most of the loss coming in
refinancing.  The purchase market will be
largely unchanged or will rise slightly. 
This does not, however, reflect any changes that might be made in the
HARP program or any unforeseen outside events.

…(read more)

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Housing Industry Reacts to State of the Union

Housing featured prominently in
President Obama’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday night.  The President made two specific proposals,
one to deal with the ghosts of housing past, the other to provide expanded
credit to homeowners.

In contrast to the settlement with banks
that Obama was widely rumored to announce
at the State of the Union, he instead directed Attorney General Eric Holder to
create a new office on Mortgage Origination and Securitization Abuses.  The President said, “The American people
deserve a robust and comprehensive investigation into the global financial meltdown
to ensure nothing like it ever happens again.”

According to the Huffington Post, the new
office will take a three-pronged approach to the issue, holding financial
institutions accountable for abuses, compensating victims, and providing relief
for homeowners, and will operate as part of the existing Financial Fraud
Enforcement Task Force.  On Wednesday several
news outlets were reporting that the unit will be chaired by State Attorney
General Eric Schneiderman, who has been regarded as among the toughest of state
law enforcement officers with Lanny Breuer, an assistant attorney general in
the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) as co-chair.  Others reported to be in the group are Robert
Khuzami, director of enforcement at the Securities and Exchange Commission,
U.S. Attorney for Colorado John Walsh and Tony West, assistant AG, DOJ. 

The President’s second and more
broad-reaching proposal was for a massive refinancing of mortgage loans that
would reach beyond the current government initiates such as the Home Affordable
Refinance Program (HARP).  While few
details are available, the President said that his proposed initiative would
cut red tape and could save homeowners about $3,000 a year on their mortgage
payments because of the current historically low rates.  Unlike HARP, the program would apply to all
borrowers whether or not their current mortgages are government-backed and
would be paid for by a small fee on the largest financial institutions. Obama
did not mention principal reduction in his proposal.

Bloomberg is reporting that the program is
Obama’s response to a call by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke in a paper sent to Congress
earlier this month for the administration to offer more aid for housing.   While largely dealing with the need to
convert excess housing inventory to rental property, the paper also touched on
the benefits of easing refinancing beyond the HARP program.

Bloomberg also outlined some of the
tradeoffs of a super-refinancing program saying it may damage investors in
government-backed securities by more quickly paying off those with high coupons
and limited default risk while aiding holders of other home-loan securities and
banks.  Word that such a proposal might be
forthcoming in the President’s speech, Bloomberg said, “Roiled the market for
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac securities according to a note to clients by Bank of
America Corp.”

The Associated Press quoted Stan
Humphries, chief economist at Zillow as saying the refinancing could allow 10
million more homeowners to refinance and, by preventing foreclosures and
freeing up money for Americans to spend, could give the economy a $40 to $75
billion jolt.  The Federal Reserve, the
AP said, was more cautious, estimating that 2.5 million additional homeowners
might be able to refinance.

The refinancing initiative would require
approval by Congress, however the day after the speech the focus was on other issues
such as tax reform and we could not find any reaction from members of Congress
specific to the refinancing issue.  Even the
Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) issued a statement from its president David
H. Stevens which did not mention the refinancing program, obliquely addressing
instead the creation of the mortgage fraud office.    

“Like the
President, we believe it is time to move forward with rebuilding this nation’s
housing market and that lenders and borrowers alike contributed to the housing
crisis we are currently in.  Let there also be no mistake, those who
committed illegal acts ought to face the consequences, if they haven’t already.”

Stevens
then called for a clear national housing policy “that establishes certainty for
lenders and borrowers alike.”  This,
according to MBA, requires finalizing the Risk Retention/Qualified Residential
Mortgage (QRM) rule “in a way that ensures access to credit for all qualified
borrowers,” establishing working national servicing standards, developing a
legal safe-harbor for Dodd-Frank QRM/Ability to Repay requirements, and “Move(ing)
quickly to determine the proper role of the federal government in the mortgage market
in order to ensure sufficient mortgage liquidity through all markets, good and
bad.

Creation
of the fraud office generated substantial comment, much of which was
unfavorable.  A lot of the criticism
focused on the lack of prosecutions that have emerged from the existing fraud
task force and there was a strong suspicion voiced by the liberal blogosphere
that the new office was merely a cover for pushing the DOJ/50-state attorneys
general settlement with major banks.  However,
one analysis, written by Shahien Nasiripour in U.S. Politics and Policies pointed out the wider powers of
enforcement available to attorneys general in some states such as New York’s
Martin Act and how the states and federal government might use the new office
to pool their powers and responsibilities to the benefit of each.  

The new
office will not lure California Attorney General Kamala Harris back into the
fold.  Harris and Schneiderman both
withdrew from the national foreclosure settlement last year, feeling that it
did not represent the interest of their respective states.  Despite the appointment of Schneiderman to
head the new office, Harris announced on Wednesday that she would not be
rejoining her fellow AGs
in their negotiations saying that the latest
settlement proposal was inadequate for California.  A spokesman for her office said, “Our
state has been clear about what any multistate settlement must contain:
transparency, relief going to the most distressed homeowners, and meaningful
enforcement that ensures accountability. At this point, this deal does not
suffice for California.”

Here’s the video of the speech beginning at the point discussing housing related issues…

…(read more)

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The Latest on On-line Lending; Principal Forgiveness Cost; How HUD’s Changes Will Impact Gov’t Lenders

As red-blooded American males prepare for the advertising onslaught
of Valentine’s Day (2/14), we are reminded that the media is indeed
powerful – just ask Sarah Palin. (Hey, whatever happened to her?) All
this month the public has seen the OCC foreclosure ads.
Supports Independent Foreclosure Review Program with Public Service
Ads. On January 4, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC)
announced that it placed print and radio public service advertisements
to inform mortgage borrowers of the Independent Foreclosure Review (IFR)
program launched by the OCC in November 2011. The print feature
explains that borrowers foreclosed upon between January 1, 2009 and
December 31, 2010 are eligible to have their foreclosures independently
reviewed to determine if the borrowers suffered financial injury as a
result of any errors by certain large, federally regulated mortgage
servicers. The ads will run in Spanish and English in 7,000 small
newspapers and on 6,500 small radio stations. Here is a copy of the OCC announcement with links to the ads.

Hiring across the country continues for some companies. SecurityNational Mortgage’s Crown Group is hiring retail
loan consultants, retail producing managers, and branch managers for
its Retail origination team, and wholesale AE’s who can build their
territory through wholesale, correspondent and retail branch
originations. The company is staffing up in the following territories –
Texas (DFW), Florida (Dade, Broward, Palm Beach and Duval counties),
Missouri, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arkansas and Colorado.  (SNMC is also
hiring underwriters and processors in the Dallas area.)
“SecurityNational Mortgage is a nationwide lender offering Conventional,
FHA, VA and USDA loans thru its Retail, Wholesale and Correspondent
business channels.”  If you know anyone interested, please send
inquiries/resumes to CrownGroup@Securitynational.com.”

The other day someone told me that there were actually things on the
internet other than dirty pictures. I was stunned. Seriously, although
the article is a little slanted, here is some chatter on on-line lending.

The
average LO probably doesn’t care too much about the proposed settlement
between the states and the servicers. But the large servicers, which
are pretty much the large banks, care, and probably really want to “move
on” from this, which in turn would help return the flow of business. At
this point, supposedly state AG negotiators have reached the final terms on a settlement deal w/the country’s biggest banks,
and the preliminary pact is now being circulated among the 50 AGs. The
price tag for the servicers is around $25 billion, depending on how many
states sign on (California and NY remain on the fence). The tentative
agreement still must be approved by all 50 state attorneys-general, and
the states will be asked either to agree to proposals or decline to
participate with Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citigroup
and Ally Financial. Other banks, such as US Bancorp and PNC Financial
Services, have set aside reserves for such an outcome. Stay tuned…and
remember that the money has to come from somewhere…

Speaking of which, the FHFA noted that forgiving mortgage debt on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac loans would cost F&F almost $100 billion.
Freddie & Fannie guarantee nearly 3 million mortgages on single-
family homes that are underwater, but almost 80% of these borrowers are
still current. Principal forgiveness would increase the size of the
government’s bailout of the companies, which have cost taxpayers more
than $153 billion since they were taken under government control in
2008. One can almost hear Mr. DeMarco thinking, “First you made us raise
our g-fees, and now this…don’t complain when we lose more money…”  –
the letter.

And for more on government mortgage agencies, late last week HUD
released its final rule to improve and expand the risk management
activities of the FHA. It was pretty much as expected but a few things
should be noted. First, HUD will seek to force indemnification for “serious and material” violations of FHA origination requirements.
For those cases not involving fraud or misrepresentation, HUD will
require indemnification within five years from the date of the mortgage
insurance endorsement. Second, the proposed rule will also require
delegated FHA lenders to continually maintain an acceptable claim and
default rate, both to gain special lender status as well as to preserve
it
. HUD will require that the claim and default rate for a lender be
at or below 150% of the average rate of all of the states in which it
does business. Specifically for indemnifications, HUD says that lenders
may need to buyback loans if they failed to verify and analyze the
creditworthiness, income, and/or employment of the borrower, verify the
source of assets brought by the borrower for payment of the required
down payment and/or closing costs, address property deficiencies
identified in the appraisal affecting the health and safety of the
occupants or the structural integrity of the property, or ensure that
the property appraisal satisfies FHA appraisal requirements. HUD may
seek indemnification irrespective of whether the violation caused the
mortgage default. Clearly, the rule change should result in more
putbacks to lenders going forward.

What does this mean? Since HUD will be requiring a buyback only if
the loan has seasoned less than 5-years (unless there is fraud), similar
to GSE loans, this may lead to a reluctance from lenders to
refinance existing FHA loans due to the fear of resetting the seasoning
on the loan
. Further, this impact is not restricted to loans that
are seasoned more than 5-years as the seasoning is reset on all loans.
Although this change points towards a general tightening in underwriting
and a potential slowdown in prepays, experts are uncertain how putbacks will be implemented for loans that go through FHA streamline refinancings.
For these loans, FHA does not require an appraisal or income/asset
verification and hence it is not clear what criteria will be used for
the putback. That said, most believe that lenders will be more careful
in refinancing borrowers once this rule goes into effect. Since lenders
will be assessed on the credit performance of their overall FHA book,
this should also lead to lower delinquencies and defaults on newly
originated FHA loans going forward.

And put another way, the FHA’s rule makes it tougher to qualify for
loans insured by the agency. To qualify for mortgage insurance, lenders
must offer up evidence that their seriously delinquent and claim rates
remain at or below 150 percent of aggregate rates in home states. And
the rule authorizes more extensive examination for lenders in order to
ensure that they are able to meet the FHA’s new qualifications. It
requires that certain lenders indemnify HUD in claims over loans. And
let’s not forget that many believe the FHA fund is insolvent – perhaps
this will help.

The government has trouble not interfering with home lending in the
U.S., and in fact HUD has come out saying it would like to see FHA
lenders relax their credit score minimums allowing more borrowers to
qualify for FHA loans.  But lenders are telling HUD officials the agency
must first change FHA’s lender/monitoring system (“Neighborhood Watch”)
so they aren’t stigmatized for making loans to borrowers with lower
credit scores. Neighborhood Watch ratios are used by everyone to measure
performance in relation to other lenders in a certain geography, and a
high default and claim rate can trigger audits by FHA or the HUD
Inspector Generals, and these audits often lead to indemnification
demands for actual and future losses. Because of the Neighborhood Watch
“triggers”, many lenders are only comfortable originating high credit
score FHA loans. Other lenders are interested in venturing a little down
the credit quality curve, and will often bring in outside help in
making sure their originations, operations and quality control
procedures can withstand the scrutiny of the HUD’s Quality Assurance
Division, Mortgagee Review Board and the Office of the Inspector
General. The Collingwood Group LLC has been partnering with
lenders in navigating these issues to unlock this valuable product
development opportunity in ways that are responsible and defensible. 
Inquiries should be directed to Brideen Gallagher at bgallagher@collingwoodllc.com. (And nope, this is not a paid ad.)

For news moving rates,
the two-day FOMC meeting begins today and concludes with a news
conference Wednesday.  It is expected that the Fed will maintain its
rock-bottom policy rate, so the anticipation lies in the new decision to
publish rate forecasts of each district bank out to 2015 to show
greater transparency. Any hint of QE3 from the FOMC tomorrow “will send
mortgages off to the races.” And tonight’s State of the Union Address
has been known to move markets.

Yesterday MBS prices were nearly unchanged whereas the 10-yr T-note
lost nearly .375 in price and closed at a yield of 2.07%. Today for
excitement we have a $35 billion 2-yr note auction at 11AM MST. In the early going the 10-yr is down to 2.04% and MBS prices are a shade better.

(Parental discretion advised.)
A woman asks her husband, “Would you like some bacon and eggs? A slice of toast and maybe some grapefruit and coffee?” she asks.
He
declines. “Thanks for asking, but I’m not hungry right now. It’s this
Viagra,” he says. “It’s really taken the edge off my appetite.”
At lunchtime she asked if he would like something. “A bowl of soup, homemade muffins, or a cheese sandwich?”

He declines. “The Viagra,” he says, “really trashes my desire for food.”
Come
dinnertime, she asks if he wants anything to eat. “Would you like a
juicy porterhouse steak and scrumptious apple pie? Or maybe a rotisserie
chicken or tasty stir fry?”
He declines again. “Naw, still not hungry.”

“Well,” she says, “would you mind letting me up? I’m starving.”

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Mortgage Suspicious Activy Reports (SARs) Continue to Emerge from Pre-2008 Loans

Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) related
to suspected mortgage loan fraud (MLF) filed by depository institutions decreased
sharply in the first quarter of 2012 compared to the first quarter of 2011 even
as SARs increased overall.  Data on these
MLF SARs filings was released Tuesday by the Treasury Department’s Financial
Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).

There were 17,651 MLF SARs filed during
the quarter compared to 25,484 one year earlier, a decrease of 31 percent.  At the same time there were 205,301 SARs of
all types, an increase of 10 percent from 186,331 in the first quarter of
2011.  MLFs represented 14 percent of all
SAR filings in that earlier period compared to 9 percent in the January-March
2012 period.

FinCEN said there was an unusual spike
in MLF SARs
filings during the first three quarters of 2011.  These arose primarily out of mortgage
repurchase demands on banks which prompted a review of loan origination
documents and subsequent detection of suspected fraud.  Filings in early 2012 show that problems
continue to emerge from loans originated in the pre-2009 period which accounted
for the majority of delinquencies and foreclosures experienced since 2008.

Of the MLF SARs filed in the first
quarter, 28 percent related to loans that were four to five years old and 44
percent to loans that were more than five years from their origination data.  One year ago 79 percent were three or more
years old. 

While only a minority of filers included
loss totals and fewer did so in 2012 than in 2011, more than 80 percent of the
losses reported were for amounts under $500,000.  Very few filings (51 in 2012) reported any recovery
of losses.

Numbers of SAR were logically the
largest in the largest states – California, Florida, New York, and
Illinois.  On a per capita basis California
was in first place as it was during all of 2011.  Nevada ranked second, rising from fifth place
in 2011 and Florida was third.  Los
Angeles had the highest number of MLF SARs of any of the large metropolitan
areas both by volume and on a per capita basis. 
Two other California MSAs, the Riverside area and San Jose-Sunnyvale
were second and third on a per capital basis followed by Las Vegas and Miami.

To determine the latest trends in
suspected mortgage fraud FinCEN examined a subset of MLF SARs filings reporting
activities that were less than two years old.  Nineteen percent of 3,354 MLF SARs filed during
the first quarter met this criterion and FinCEN examined a sample of 334 or ten
percent.  The largest category of
suspected fraud was defined as income followed by occupancy, employment, and
debt elimination.  Compared to the Q1
2011 report, debt elimination fraud increased as did foreclosure rescue scams
while appraisal fraud was down. 

FinCen reported an increasing number of
SARs that appeared to involve “repeat subjects.”  For example, several foreclosure rescue scam
reports
noted that numerous borrowers had complained about the subject
organizations.  The same was true of some
SARs related to proposed debt relief services. 
Filers also noted several short sale SARs subjects who had been involved
in numerous fraudulent transactions. 
This information could provide useful information to law enforcement.

FinCen also identified fraud patterns not
noted in other reports.  One was homeowners
insurance fraud where borrowers pocketed insurance payments after home fires
and another, “Keys for Cash” where persons moved into bank owned properties
claiming to have long term leases.  Their
true objective appeared to be inducing lenders into paying them to vacate the
properties.

In a related matter, the Department of
Justice and the offices of the Inspector General for both the Department of Housing
and Urban Development and the Federal Housing Finance Agency held mortgage
fraud summits
in two cities on Tuesday to help protect homeowners in areas
hardest hit by mortgage scams.  A third
summit slated for Tallahassee, Florida is being rescheduled because of severe
weather in the area.  The summits were
organized by President Obama’s Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force’s (FFETF)
Mortgage Fraud Working Group of which FinCEN is a member.  

“Preventing, detecting and
prosecuting mortgage fraud is a top priority of the Financial Fraud Enforcement
Task Force and its Mortgage Fraud Working Group members,” said FFETF Executive
Director Michael Bresnick. “It’s more important than ever that we arm
homeowners with the information they need to recognize the predators up front
and empower them to avoid falling victim to these devastating scams. That’s why
the task force is holding these summits in states hit hardest by the
foreclosure crisis.”

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