Happy Anniversary to Me

I launched this blog a year ago today for two reasons. First, as a way to communicate with other people going through the mortgage modification nightmare and document the insights I was gaining about the screwed-up system.

And second as a therapeutic outlet for me, giving me something productive to do in the wee hours when I couldn’t sleep from worry about losing my home or frustration about the idiotic antics of the bank and the total lack of accountability to any legal or regulatory body.

To mark this mildly auspicious occasion, Wells Fargo has provided a little gift for me today. I found out unofficially, through my legal counsel, that I have been turned down a third time for a mortgage modification.

It appears that Bush-era fuzzy math was involved, as WF has somehow managed to deflate my income by $511 and inflate my monthly expenses by $591. This includes them somehow manufacturing a monthly medical-insurance payment of $402 even though my very-much-cheaper medical insurance is paid by my business.

I’m sure this was just an innocent mistake that will be quickly rectified, not an intentional strategy employed so they could turn down my request alleging my debt-to-income was too great. Right.

So, as soon as I get the formal written denial, it’ll be back to square one with a whole new modification request. Personally, I think they’re just trying to see how many copies of my 2009 tax return they can fit in the electronic file. They’ve only got eight so far, which really isn’t a very impressive stack of paper.

Guess the upside is – there will probably be plenty more to blog about.

And, just as an amusing present to me, here’s a little ditty about fuzzy math (and a surprising preview of the current state of the economy and corporate power).

 

NPR Fail on CFPB Story

NPR: New Consumer Protection Agency Faces Opposition

In all my years listening to NPR, I can’t recall ever hearing a story that seemed so naive, so ridiculously superficial, as Tamara Keith’s piece today on the launch of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Anyone who has been paying any attention to the creation of this agency knows banking interests have been fighting tooth and nail to discredit its architect, Elizabeth Warren, and render the agency impotent.

So, what does Keith say about that? After we hear Warren talking about the forces allied against the agency and its central mission to provide clarity and transparency in the information consumers receive regarding transactions such as choosing credit cards or securing mortgages, the reporter states: “Now you might think powerful forces are rising up to fight these changes. But that would be wrong.”

She goes on to feature a lobbyist for the Financial Services Roundtable, where top executives from huge banks and investment companies meet to advocate for their own industry, who says the big banks are all for the CFPB’s attempts to simplify disclosure forms?

“In fact, so far [lobbyist Scott] Talbott says the industry has been pleased with the direction the bureau is heading,” Keith reports.

So, what’s the obvious next question? How about asking if this better disclosure is so universally good for lending institutions and consumers, why does a consumer-advocate agency have to suggest it? If the top executives in the industry are so keen on the benefits of better disclosure documentation in financial transactions like mortgages and credit cards, why haven’t those very people already created and offered them to their customers? Duh.

Could it be that lobbyist Talbott is, shall we say, taking Keith for a little spin on his “banks-love-oversight” magic carpet? If banks loved oversight – and if any meaningful oversight of banks existed in this country today – the economy wouldn’t be in the tank and millions of Americans wouldn’t be kicked out of their homes based on fraudulent paperwork.

Though she mentions political opposition to the CFPB, Keith completely ignores the giant elephant in the room. All those big banks and investment companies have bought and paid for a good number of Congressmen and -women who have been fighting a pitched battle to weaken the bureau and to prevent Warren from being named its head.

Those people include Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL), chairman of the House Financial Services Committee and the sponsor of a bill that would, in Warren’s words, “rip the arms and legs off this agency.” In fact, Bachus ranks third on the list of candidates that received campaign contributions from the Financial Services Roundtable. And, though he has run virtually uncontested during his tenure, Bachus has still taken in more than $1 million in campaign contributions from commercial banks, more than $700,000 from securities and investment firms and nearly $400,000 from finance and credit companies.

Among his top contributors are JP Morgan Chase and Citigroup, along with the Mortgage Bankers’ Association, one of a cadre of banking-industry organizations that oppose the CFPB.

I’m a big fan of NPR, but for me this story disintegrated into a puff piece as soon as the lobbyist started to speak. I expect better from NPR.

Update: Read more about the multimillion dollar fight against financial regulation:

OpenSecrets Reports: Crossing Wall Street
Consumer Bureau Launches in Shark-Infested Waters


Bank employees can’t read a bank statement? Or add? Yikes!

So, here’s a little task for all you bright people. I’m going to do the following:

1) Give you a copy of my June 2011 bank statement for my personal account … and
2) Give you a copy of my June 2011 bank statement for my business account … and
3) Give you a copy of my profit-and-loss statement showing the total amount of payroll expense in June 2011.

In addition, I will also tell you that I am the only employee of my business; therefore, the entire payroll amount reported on the P&L was paid to me.

Your task, now, is to verify that the business did, indeed, pay me the amount (by check) that I say I am paid.

Just so you know what you’re getting into, I’ll tell you that the statement for the business account shows records for 19 transactions. Eight are checks, five are deposits, five are debit-card transactions and one is a bank service fee. So, to successfully complete this task you’ll need to look at the records of the eight checks. The personal bank statement details 38 transactions, four of which are deposits.

What’s the catch, you ask? Surely all this should take is looking at the amounts of the eight checks on the business statement to see which ones match up with the amounts in any of the four deposits on the personal statement, add the matching deposits up and then look to see whether the number you get matches the payroll expense amount reported on the P&L.

Simple, right?!

Apparently not if you work for Wells Fargo. If you work for Wells Fargo, it seems that one of the following might be true:

1) You don’t know how to read a bank statement.
2) You don’t know how to read.
3) You don’t know what the words “deposit” and “draft” mean in the context of a bank statement.
4) You can’t add, in this case, two three-digit numbers.
5) You really can do all those things, but your boss told you to pretend you couldn’t so as to further delay the review of a customer’s mortgage loan for modification.

If you work for Wells Fargo and are asked to perform this very task while reviewing a customer’s loan modification paperwork, you will fail. Or, at least, you will inform the customer that you failed, even though saying so will make you seem to be a complete incompetent idiot who shouldn’t be working in a burger joint, let alone in the Office of the President of a multi-billion-dollar corporation.

You will be required tell the customer that in order to verify her income, you will need her to send you copies of the checks that were written on the business account and deposited into the personal account. (Just FYI, there were two.) Because until you see those checks with your own eyes, you have no idea whatsoever what that customer’s income might be.

Ugh.

Just imagine how awful it must be to work for this company whose system for “reviewing” loan mod requests requires you to pretend, right out there in public, you are a complete imbecile. That would sure get old fast. (And even rate an entry in the My Bad Boss contest – a little humor to keep you from beating your head on your desk after reading about this bankster nonsense.)

Lied To & Duped … That’s Me.

“…homeowners who began the process of obtaining a loan modification did so with expectations set by the President’s speech, and they quickly learned that they had been lied to… duped… they had waited through Bush’s last year… they had held on as they waited for Barack Obama… the man of the people… as long as the people worked on Wall Street.

When they’ve attempted to obtain their loan modification on their own, they ended up angry at the banks, the government, and the president himself.”      ~M. Andelman

That’s me to a “T.” Naively wading into the mortgage modification cesspool expecting to be treated like a human being and knowing I met the criteria. Jerked around for 7 months before Wells Fargo could manage to complete the loan mod review (and turn me down, inevitably). Waiting in vain for the Obama administration, Treasury or one of the bank regulators to put an end to the loan servicers’ delay and deny games.

Disillusioned, angry and seriously considering taking up residence in some other country, if only I can find one not on the fascist track and run by the banksters. Still fighting until I can find that elusive place.

Read the rest of this excellent blog post from Mandelman Matters.

 

Paranoid or Prudent?

I can’t remember the last time I cashed a check, so it came as a bit of a surprise yesterday when I was in Wells Fargo with a friend who wanted to cash a check she’d gotten as a gift from a family member. (My friend doesn’t bank at Wells – she’s another happy credit union customer.)

She hadn’t cashed a check in years, either, so we had to ask the nice teller whether banks still do that. She said yes, but my friend would have to wait until a “banker” (code for customer service person) could get her fingerprint. Huh?!

So, we waited about 15 minutes for a “banker,” who pulled up the check writer’s account on her computer, apparently verifying funds and then comparing the signature on the check to one she pulled up on screen. She looked at my friend’s driver’s license and then had her put a print of her right thumb on the front of the check in one of the open spaces between printed areas.

Then we took the check back to the teller, who had to see the driver’s license plus another form of ID before handing over the cash.

Now, I know that in this age of identity theft and fake check scams, this 20-minute process to cash a check should make me feel more secure about my money. But considering what I have learned about big banks in general – and Wells Fargo specifically – in the past year and a half, the first thing that popped into my mind was this: “Gee, this bank sures want to make sure nobody else can steal their customers’ money before it can.”

Am I overly cynical or just facing the fact of our financial system? As the saying goes, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean someone’s not after you.

Sigh.

“Bank Robbers” Takes On New Meaning

Someone I know, an intelligent professional person peripherally involved in the housing/foreclosure mess, made a statement recently that really threw me. In response to an allusion to the reports of wrongful foreclosures, she said “Oh, I really think that only happened one time and the media just keeps telling the same story.”

It’s this mindset that keeps people who should know better parroting the bank shills’ lines about how thousands of fraudulent documents are just a “paperwork error” and people seeking relief under a government-sponsored modification program only want free houses.

I know I can think of more than one example of the banks’ amazing audacity in wrecking people’s homes and lives. Who could forget the story of the California woman, coincidentally named Mimi Ash, whose mountain retreat had been cleaned out of everything including her husband’s ashes?

Or the terror in the voice of this Florida woman, hiding in a bathroom and talking to a 911 operator while contractors for Chase break into her home.

So, I set about to find as many different stories as I could about banks wrongfully foreclosing on people, even to the extreme of trashing out houses they had no right to touch.

I sure didn’t have any trouble finding a whole bunch of stories about the banks’ shocking behavior. This is a partial list of the horror stories I came up with:

  • Lawsuit accuses bank of seizing wrong house
    In Texas, Bank of America agents changed the locks and shut the power off in a house owned free-and-clear by Alan Schroit, causing a big stinky mess when 75 pounds of salmon and halibut from an Alaska fishing trip thawed.

You’ll notice plenty of mentions of people filing or considering lawsuits against these banks. Nice to read about one homeowner win: Wells Fargo Ordered to Pay $155,000 for Wrongful Foreclosure Conduct. The bank was found guilty of locking a New York man out of his home, then trashing out the house even after they were ordered not to enter.

The mainstream media has noticed that banks are sending their agents to break into homes even before foreclosures are completed. Even the financial industry trade pub American Banker acknowledges the problem: Seizing the Wrong Home: Rare, but a PR Nightmare.

But you’ll still see quite a few big media understatements on this topic. For example, why does the NYT call burglary a “foreclosure flaw?” And this Phoenix television news reporter seems pretty cavalier about the “mistake” made when a Scottsdale AZ woman with no foreclosure/default issues was locked out of her condo by a bank contractor.

Bargain hunting to buy a foreclosure house? Well, beware – you’re not safe either. The very same bank from whose inventory you buy the house might forget it has already foreclosed and come after you and your belongings.

Imagine finally paying off your mortgage after a delinquency, feeling the relief that you’ve escaped the bank’s foreclosure machine only to have a trash-out company show up and steal your belongings.

Here’s a truly disturbing article, telling homeowners if we don’t want someone to illegally enter our houses and steal our stuff, maybe we should put up signs saying we live there. What?! You’ve got to be kidding me. Makes you wonder whether it’s safe to leave home … ever. Even if you don’t have a mortgage or aren’t in default.

It wasn’t for one Florida homeowner, who found his house had been emptied out and his wife’s wedding dress shredded at the behest of his lender, even though he wasn’t in foreclosure.

These banks are truly out of control. Will somebody remind me what country we’re living in? I’m beginning to wonder whether a tornado picked up my house in the United States and dropped it in a fascist police state.

Too bad all the magic seems to have gone out of the statement “There’s no place like home.”

 Update:
If you are not even in foreclosure, you risk having the banks kick down your door and change the locks on you when you’re away. Think about that. The argument that the banks take is that when you take out a mortgage, you grant them the right to kick down your door. Did you think about that when you signed a mortgage? Is that what you thought you were getting when you took out a loan?                  ~Matt Weidner

Update 9/6/11:
Deborah Crabtree, Widow, Sues BofA After Being Overwhelmed With Automated Payment Requests
Bank of America reportedly pestered a grieving widow with computer-generated calls from the bank as often as every 15 minutes, including during her husband’s wake, over a missed mortgage payment she had told them she would make once she received her husband’s life insurance.

Update 9/9/11:
Should The Banks Be Permitted To Kick Down Doors? Change Locks? Remove Property?
How can the banks just get away with committing violent home invasions? And what about the even greater violations where they clean out a person’s belongings, in some cases spiriting away the valuables while throwing the rest of one’s life into a dumpster?

Update 7/2012: And it’s still going on!
Bank Of America’s House Winterizing Crew Results In A Missing Muscle Car
Family Reunited With Muscle Car Stolen During Foreclosure Wants Bank Of America To Pay For Damages

Update 7/2013: These big banks are out of control and clearly believe they are above the law. How scary is that?
Ohio bank steals woman’s possessions by ‘mistake,’ then refuses to pay up