Since www.shamethebanks.org was launched on March 23 and announced on the Huff Post, the site has received thousands of visitors. Homeowners have been submitting stories, commenting on articles and stories, and downloading hundreds of mortgage related documents that are available on the site. The content on the site has received over 13,000 hits and continues to gain momentum.
In the site's short time on the web it's been featured on moveyourmoney.info, with the tag line, "Want to tell people how you were abused by the big banks? Share your story at ShametheBanks.org, where you can read other horror stories and stay up to date on how government policies affect you."
Denise Richardson, consumer advocate and owner of GiveMeBackMyCredit.com, wrote in her recent Sun Sentinel post, "ShameTheBanks.org is a great non-commercial location for consumers to share their stories about fighting the banking system, lowering their interest rates, or advocating for student loan rights. It is also a resource, providing homeowners with mortgage and loan information drawn from across the Internet and beyond, all in one location."
Richardson also sent us an e-mail shortly after the site was announced on Huff Post. "I never heard of the site, so went to see if it was a legit site -- I was thrilled that it was," she wrote eluding to the enormous number of commercial sites offering similar information at a cost to already cash-strapped and desperate homeowners.
Unfortunately not every site covering the crisis is as dedicated to helping homeowners or grateful to see another site as Richardson is. Earlier this month, in an effort to inform Congress and the powers that be about the daunting experiences homeowners were facing in getting loan modifications, I visited homeowner forums to solicit stories from people. On a recent visit to one forum I posted a request for information from homeowners who had received trial modifications and been granted permanent modifications. I wanted to repudiate the amount of "successful" modifications banks and servicers have claimed. The owner of the site banned me from the site the same day, claiming that I was self promoting, though it was difficult to read his response amongst the ads on the site.
Over the last year, while blogging about the crisis, I have received a number of e-mails from homeowners recounting their stories and difficulties in getting any relief in this crisis. Each story is different and was sent with the hope that comes with media attention. As I wrote in my last post, "Every once in a while a story will pop up in the press about a homeowner being unfairly treated by a bank, like this Indiana couple who were denied a modification by GMAC for making their payments early. The bank is contacted by the media, the situation is rectified, the bank explains it away and inevitably they simply go back to business as usual with the rest of their customers -the ones who didn't get media attention."
Initially people contacted me with trepidation and reserve, asking me to not mention them by name or location for fear that publicizing their plight would lead to retribution from the banks. A couple of weeks ago, facing a pile of e-mails, a few of us got together and decided to put a site together for people to tell their stories. I contacted each of the homeowners who had e-mailed me to inform them of shamethebanks.org and our intention. I fully expected to get push back and more misplaced fear.
My inbox was brimming the next morning.
"YES, you have my permission to use my case or words in anyway that will help another realize they are not alone and make the point the banks are scamming us by double and triple dipping ONCE they can do what they do to get our homes to auction," was just one e-mail I received from Catherine Drake. She and her husband are among the many who have had enough and feel they have nothing to lose by coming forward and telling their story.
Lori Kelly wrote, "Feel free to use my first and last name. I have nothing to hide. Except maybe the HAMP police," she wrote. She now blogs on the site.
The site is riddled with information, stories from homeowners are coming in every day, and the blogs are active. The contributors to the site are homeowners, consumer lawyers, and even some who worked for loan servicers. A few of the members have blogs on the site. Each of them is dedicated to one purpose: Helping homeowners find information and give them a voice they otherwise may not have had.
The majority of of the comments are empathetic as people respond to the stories and blog posts."I don't even know you, but your story hits home with me," one reader posts.
Banks aren't the only ones angering homeowners. People frustrated with how elected officials have responded to this situation leave their comments as well. "I went to Senator Feinstein's office a few weeks back as I had petitioned for a meeting. I thought I was going to meet her, but ended up in a room with a twenty-something aide," writes one reader. Another woman told me that Congressman Mike Conway of Texas told her, "I don't get involved in the private sector."
Bank of America recently announced a plan to reduce principal after a tongue lashings from the White House. Treasury's March report of modifications to date by servicer show's Bank of America as having modified less than 10 percent of its eligible loans. There is little confidence among homeowners or economists that the bank will follow through with this recent announcement according to an NPR Radio broadcast.
On March 4 Ocwen's president, Ron Farris appeared before the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and said, "In Ocwen's experience, negative equity increases the chance of a re-default by one-and-a-half to two times."
This assessment by Farris may be accurate, but it is in stark contradiction to his companies policies. In e-mail communications and phone conversations with Jennifer Levy, an Ocwen Bank Loan Workout Specialist and Farris' own secretary, Linda Ludwig, about our loan, both women stated emphatically that Ocwen never reduces principal, despite what their executives are quoted as saying. Ludwig even accused us of taking what they said out of context. Ocwen has been ordered by a judge to clean up their accounting, calling it "systematic abuse" and repeatedly been given a grade of "F" by the Better Business Bureau, yet Congress continues to accept their testimony without verifying any of their claims. A successful loan modification from either Bank of America or Ocwen has yet to be reported.
The public relations departments of these firms has done an excellent job convincing Congress and homeowners who are not losing their homes that they are doing great things, but the reality of the situation for homeowners is far from great and we're posting new stories as they come in.
In just one week shamethebanks.org has managed to reach more people than we had hoped. We're hoping the momentum will continue and eventually reach Washington.
Help spread the word and the shame at ShameTheBanks.org and tell your story about the bank or elected official treating you shamefully. Let them know that their plan isn't working and homeowners continue to be duped out of their money and their homes.