Don't Swim With Loan Sharks

July 25, 2013
Cape Cod Times 
mortgage lending news

Federal regulators have been trying to strengthen consumer protection laws through the Dodd-Frank Act and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau; but legal "loan sharks" are looking to get state governments to pass industry-friendly legislation, consumer watchdogs say. In Massachusetts, for example, House Bill 3569 is moving through the legislature after winning approval from the Financial Services Committee earlier in July. Reps. David Vieira (R-Falmouth) and Timothy Madden (D-Nantucket) favor the proposal concerning "debt relief" firms, arguing that it would regulate what they call "no-man's land" and help to control companies already operating "under the radar." Adam Martignetti, chief of staff for the Financial Services Committee, says the bill includes strict licensing requirements and blocks upfront fees. Consumer groups such as the Center for Responsible Lending, however, warn that the bill could lead to fees, higher interest rates, and collection lawsuits that will harm consumers. An audit by the Government Accountability Office in April 2010 found that "fraudulent, abusive, and deceptive practices" of for-profit debt settlement companies can pose serious risks to consumers. Seventeen out of 20 such firms collected fees before settling a single debt. Some of them fraudulently claimed success rates as high as 100 percent, although the Federal Trade Commission and state investigators have documented a less than 10-percent success rate.

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