A coalition of groups led by the SEIU is launching a campaign to help homeowners capitalize on a growing foreclosure fraud scandal that has forced banks to halt foreclosures across the country.
The campaign suggests a question for borrowers to ask when fighting foreclosure in court: "Where's the note? Did the big banks lose your mortgage?"
The mortgage note is proof that a borrower owes a debt. Wall Street banks packaged and repackaged mortgages into exotic financial instruments during the housing bubble, and in some cases, they lost the note along the way. That's where the potential fraud comes in.
Ally Financial just expanded its review of foreclosures to all 50 states after an employee admitted to signing thousands of foreclosure affidavits without verifying the info in the documents. JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America are also taking that step and Wells Fargo is reviewing foreclosures in the 23 states where court approval is required. A coalition of 40 attorneys general is planning to launch an investigation as Democratic members of Congress call for a national foreclosure moratorium.
"Recent events have exposed a handful of banks that are throwing families out of their homes even though they don't have the mortgage note that proves they actually have a legal right to do so," says www.wheresthenote.com, the new site promoting the campaign. "There have been instances of two banks trying to foreclose on the same home, and in at least one case, of a bank trying to foreclose on a house where the homeowner had never even taken out a mortgage with anyone in the first place."
The website helps borrowers compose an email to their specific bank requesting the note. "To protect myself and my family, I need to know who owns my mortgage," says the letter. "Within thirty days, I would like to know the name, address, and phone number of the bank or investor that owns my mortgage. Furthermore, in light of the recent allegations of foreclosure fraud, I demand to see the original mortgage note proving ownership over my home loan."
Foreclosure defense attorneys and even a few members of Congress have encouraged borrowers to demand the note for some time. "You wouldn't imagine that the lenders would be that slovenly that they would not be able to produce adequate documentation of the debt," Rep. Brad Miller (D-N.C.) told HuffPost last year. "But apparently a lot of times they really have been unable to."
SEIU's Stephen Lerner told HuffPost the campaign is part of a broader effort to force banks to modify mortgages by giving borrowers' lower interest rates and cutting principal, something banks have been reluctant to do.
"The whole thing is just beyond obscene," Lerner said of the fraud scandal. "All of this I think is going to lead to a much bigger grassroots response."
National People's Action, PICO National Network, Industrial Areas Foundation, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, and the Northwest Federation of Community Organizations have partnered with the SEIU on the effort, which Lerner said will include a demonstration at an upcoming meeting of the American Bankers Association.