State and federal prosecutors filed 189 lawsuits Wednesday against loan modification consultants accused of bilking homeowners desperate to reduce their mortgage payments so they can keep their homes.
(Read more about loan modification scams from CBS' "The Early Showand and from the "CBS Evening News" .)
The legal actions announced by Federal Trade Commission Chairman Jon Leibowitz and California Attorney General Edmund G. Brown were part of a nationwide sweep of alleged sham consultants conducted by the federal agency and 23 states.
Brown said the lawsuits the attorney general's office filed in Orange and Los Angeles counties include allegations against five companies and their subsidiaries and staff members. In all, 21 individuals and 14 companies were named.
The lawsuits seek millions of dollars in civil penalties, restitution for victims and a permanent injunction to keep the companies and the defendants from offering mortgage-relief services, Brown said.
"The loan modification industry is teeming with confidence men and charlatans who rip off desperate homeowners facing foreclosure," Brown said. "Despite firm promises and money-back guarantees, these scam artists pocketed thousands of dollars from each victim and didn't provide an ounce of relief."
One defendant, Irvine-based U.S. Homeowners Assistance, is accused of collecting up to $3,500 each from dozens of borrowers in danger of losing their homes.
The suit says one victim had her signature forged and financial information falsified on documents filed with her lender.
Another company, Orange-based U.S. Foreclosure Relief Corp., collected more than $4.4 million from borrowers during a nine-month period, but failed in most instances to provide any services and avoided responding to consumers' inquiries, the officials said.
"These con artists see the high foreclosure rates as an opportunity to prey on people in distress," Leibowitz said. "They promise to rescue homeowners in troubled financial waters, but after they take their money they throw them an anchor instead of a lifeline."
Also named are Home Relief Services LLC, with offices in Irvine, Newport Beach and Anaheim; RMR Group Loss Mitigation, which has offices in Newport Beach, Orange, Huntington Beach, Corona and Fresno; and Los Angeles-based United First Inc.
Representatives of the companies could not immediately be reached for comment.