Wells Fargo seems to have its greedy cheating hands in everyone’s pockets these days, including Dear Uncle Freddie Mac and Aunt Fannie May, the government entities that are on many millions of mortgages as the primary investors — “owners,” so to speak, of the mortgage loans.
It’s not the only one, of course. Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and others are also serving countless mortgage loans from Freddie and Fannie. Many homeowners have tried to refinance or modify their existing mortgages since the crash of the global economy, brought on by these very banks and Wall Street investment firms. Millions of people lost their jobs, homes, businesses, investments and retirement funds in the crash, as did all levels of industry and retail, small and large. This caused a perpetual ripple effect of fear and collateral damage, with more job and benefit cuts, insurance hikes, short sales, foreclosures — and consumers not consuming in a consumer-based society.
Not good. Fear begets fear begets paralysis, followed by more downward spiraling emotionally, economically and globally as visions of growth, productivity and recovery slip away. The U.S. government put programs in place that would supposedly assist homeowners to modify their mortgages on individual homes and/or rental properties, helping the economy and Main Street get back on its feet.
Sadly, the servicing banks did not comply with their agreements via the TARP bailout and the SIGTARP (Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program) guidelines when it came to playing fair with consumers who applied for the Home Affordable Modification Program, aka HAMP. This would have stabilized the housing market and calmed the ripples to aid consumers, helping them get back to consuming and thus reviving the U.S. economy.
One homeowner I recently spoke with, Therese Crowley of Illinois, fell into the proverbial rabbit hole when she put her faith in Wells Fargo Home Mortgage. Banks don’t cheat, right? Why would they lie? Why wouldn’t they want to assist the very customers they service by helping them get the assistance they need to stay in their homes? Maybe it’s because they have more to gain when their customers lose. So figured Crowley, our latest Homeowner Hunger Games contestant…
Lainey Hashorva: Please tell me a bit about your work background, and what brought you to apply for assistance through the HAMP or HARP programs with Wells Fargo?
Therese Crowley: I was a Series 7 (securities industry) employee registered in the 1980s, and have been a managing real estate broker for more than 20 years in Illinois. After two back to back surgeries in 2008-9 — with 800 FICO scores and 62 percent LTV on my home — I was inundated with large medical bills coupled with the collapse of the real estate market. Current on my mortgage, I proactively reached out to Wells Fargo for a home loan modification in an effort to reduce my expenses. What I encountered was nothing short of a nightmare that is ongoing today as I mark seven years in this fight for my home. I stepped into the very carefully laid trap of Wells Fargo — which led me into a now my sixth year of litigation.
On all four of my applications for a loan modification over the course of 12 months (in 2009-10), Wells Fargo personnel, up to and including the executive office of John Stumpf, repeatedly used false data entry in the loan software, made misleading and fraudulent representations to me, and when identified, Wells employees refused to correct it and simply continued with ongoing delays. According to their own employees, I would have certainly been cleared for a modification had they used the correct data and followed the guidelines. Yet Wells continued to issue denial letters, falsified data in appraisals stating I had $120,000 in equity, delays and requests for more documents. They said I “failed to meet investor guidelines,” and that in fact was fraud and a misrepresentation. My “investor” is Fannie Mae. With each application, it got worse. Wells said, in writing, that my home was below the mortgage amount, when Wells had multiple appraisals reflecting a minimum of a 68 percent loan amount to actual value (LTV.)
Wells Fargo added monthly credit card debt into their calculations of my income and expenses. I had no credit cards! Wells used incorrect property tax data, more than 2.5 times the amount. When they had the current county tax bill, they used incorrect income numbers even though they had all my bank statements and income information that I had submitted per their request. In March 2010, the bank notified Fannie Mae that they were foreclosing on my home as of April 1, thought I was current on the mortgage! This was against the law in Illinois, not to mention unconscionable theft. I learned that based on the false statements the bank made to Fannie Mae, Wells Fargo was able to collect on the default insurance of nearly $115,000.00, all under false representations to the government, as my mortgage was not in default.
I was told by Wells Fargo that I was denied a modification by Fannie Mae, though months later I discovered that I had in fact been approved twice through the Chicago office of Fannie Mae. I have the documents that verify the approvals, tho the false statements by Wells Fargo — both to me and the government entity, Fannie Mae — reflect the opposite. While my applications were under review by Wells Fargo, and unbeknownst to me, Wells had conducted four or more hard credit checks which brought my 800 credit score down below 660.
When your credit is harmed and diminished, it puts you in a tight box. I was unable to obtain alternative mortgage options as I was in this trap carefully constructed by Wells Fargo. I was livid! It was so overwhelming. When I confronted Wells Fargo, they tried to coerce me into signing an in-house “proprietary modification” which included an additional $15,000, though there was no accounting or justification for that, and it made no sense.
What steps did you take to follow your hunch and obtain the information that verified your loan had been approved and offers of modification were actually made by the government, ie. Fanne Mae?
Once I contacted HUD and the office of Fannie Mae, I discovered the offers they had made to Wells Fargo on my behalf as to the approval of the modifications Wells had denied me. It was then that I contacted an attorney and began litigation against the clear fraud that is apparently so rampant at Wells Fargo. When the HUD Counselor told me to get a lawyer, I prayed about it. Given I had so much evidence of the fraud, I knew I had to stand up. I had to fight this. And every time I have gone to court, I see the countless homeowners who are losing their homes — families and veterans, completely devastated. I wonder how many never thought to ask the questions that would potentially have revealed the fraud in their files. That is in part what drives me. My hope is that other homeowners that have been subjected to this egregious fraud can benefit from our exposure and work on this — those of us that have the wherewithal to fight back.
What checks and balances do you feel the average consumer, who may not have your knowledge, background and expertise financially, should do to protect themselves and/or to investigate their own denials by the bank as to a restructure, refinance or modification of their home loans?
Keep notes and records of everything! Copies of all correspondence, keep a phone record and notes of every phone call, follow up with a letter, and ask them to put their explanations in writing. If in doubt, call HUD (Housing and Urban Development) and ask for help; they have excellent housing counselors. Also seek out housing counselors in your area. Make sure you have a single point of contact at the bank. Make sure you ask questions and make them explain it to you clearly and in writing. Consumers need to be sure that the figures utilized by these banks for the applications are accurate — including verifying the appraisals and accounting. Additionally under HAMP there are certain guidelines the servicer must follow when determining the application.
New rules in place may vary by state. Many states have newer servicing rules for the banks to adhere to, but we know that again and again these mega-financial institutions continue to make their own rules, disregard the oversight and pummel those that try to fight the system. It takes guts and stamina. Most people roll over and hand over the keys feeling hopeless.
Yes, this has been devastating to me personally and financially due to the huge legal costs to defend against their fraud. Professionally my reputation was crushed [with] the real estate business being entangled in litigation with Wells, as Wells methodically destroyed my credit leaving me no option to pursue other refinancing. I have had to endure the many physical and emotional effects of stress as well. The banks seemed to label homeowners “deadbeats.” Well, I am not a deadbeat. I have worked hard and paid my bills on time and had a great reputation before all this. They also claim the homeowners are trying to get a free house. In my case, it sure seems that Wells was going to extraordinary lengths to take or steal my house, under such egregious acts of fraud, never mind the money they collected from Fannie Mae under false representations. The daily overriding threat of a gargantuan institution attempting to steal your home under fraudulent methods buries you in so many painful moments and ongoing repercussions. It is just too hard to explain it all sometimes.
Well, that seems to be the game, right? Crush the opponent upon entry into the arena, bury the evidence, collect the insurance and sell it again to the next victim.
All I did was apply for a modification and little did I know it would become the hardest fight of my life.
As of today, Therese Crowley has been and remains in active litigation for over six years against Wells Fargo Home Mortgage for justice, to restore her credit, to keep her home and maintain her well being as she continues to live under the threat of wrongful foreclosure. With the evidence of rampant fraud and criminal activity that has been expose regarding business as usual at Wells Fargo, citizens can only hope that government unrigs this game and restores legitimacy to banking, mortgage servicing and the immeasurable losses suffered by so many. The forged accounts, excess fees and business practices executed by Wells Fargo are crumbs in comparison to the trillions of dollars the bank acquired by defrauding the government and American consumers.
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Lainey Hashorva is a social media activist, advocate for homeowners fighting foreclosure, investigative journalist and vintage craftsperson.