The Federal Trade Commission has reached a settlement against Freedom Companies, the operators behind a nationwide scam operating from the Dominican Republic that peddled fake mortgage assistance relief to financially distressed Spanish-speaking homeowners in the U.S.
The settlement bans David F. Preiner, Daniel Hungria, Freedom Companies Marketing Inc. and five other companies controlled by Preiner and Hungria from marketing any mortgage assistance relief products or services. The settlement also prohibits the defendants from making misleading claims about any product, service, plan or program that they market or advertise.
The operation collected more than $2 million in fees in three years, but failed to provide homeowners with the promised services.
The FTC’s complaint, filed last July, charged that the defendants promised to "dramatically lower" homeowners' monthly mortgage payments in 30 to 90 days in exchange for an upfront fee between $995 and $1,500.
Homeowners often were advised to stop paying their lenders. After paying the fee and not hearing further from the defendants for several weeks in most cases, some homeowners who managed to reach a live representative were told that the modification process was underway, but that they needed to pay up to several thousand dollars in additional fees.
Speaking in Spanish and targeting homeowners behind in their payments or facing foreclosure, telemarketers empathized about the tough economy and claimed to provide information about federal mortgage assistance programs, according to the complaint.
In lengthy sales calls, the telemarketers falsely claimed to be affiliated with or approved by the consumers’ lenders or the federal government, “making sure to mention President Obama or the (federal) Making Home Affordable Program by name,” according to documents filed with the court.
The FTC alleged that few homeowners received a loan modification, or anything else of value from the defendants. What they did receive, they could have gotten for themselves for free, the FTC said.
The defendants, who pretended to be based in Chicago, were charged with violating the FTC Act and the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule, known as the MARS Rule. In addition to Freedom Companies Marketing, Inc., Preiner, and Hungria, the settlement names: Freedom Companies Lending Inc.; Freedom Companies Inc.; Grupo Marketing Dominicana; Freedom Information Services Inc.; and Haiti Management Inc.
The settlement imposes a $2.39 million judgment, the full amount of consumer injury during the three years before the operation was shut down. The judgment is suspended because of the defendants’ inability to pay after they turn over the operation’s remaining $17,337 in assets. If it is determined that the financial information the defendants gave the FTC was untruthful, the full amount of the judgment will become due.