AG Gansler Settles Charges Against Maryland Firm Offering Mortgage Assistance Relief Services
Company illegally charged advance fees, will reimburse 44 Maryland victims and others $231,000
Baltimore, MD (December 17, 2013) - Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler announced today that his office's Consumer Protection Division reached a settlement agreement with Direct Financial Association, Inc., trading as Direct Financial Services, its owner, Cecilia Anh Minh Nguyen, and her husband, Michael Barnett. The settlement resolves allegations that Direct Financial Services, which used a mailing address in Owings Mills, Nguyen and Barnett violated the Maryland Consumer Protection Act by exaggerating their ability to provide foreclosure prevention and loan modification services to consumers in financial distress.
"Direct Financial Services and its owners preyed upon and gave false hope to vulnerable consumers who were trying to save their homes," said Attorney General Gansler. "I'm very pleased that these consumers will be reimbursed the hundreds or even thousands of dollars that was improperly collected from them."
The Consumer Protection Division alleged -- and the defendants did not deny -- that the company:
- Falsely touted its success in helping consumers facing foreclosure, even though Direct Financial Services often failed to obtain satisfactory and meaningful loan modifications for its clients;
- Collected illegal advance fees to negotiate mortgage loan modifications and operated without a license;
- Exaggerated its size and number of employees in order to give consumers the impression they were working with a well-established and credible organization;
- Created fictitious names and titles for Barnett and other agents;
- Misrepresented its connections with lenders and mortgage servicers; and,
- Failed to disclose a prior order against Barnett entered by the California Real Estate Commissioner in connection with similarly deceptive loan modification services.
Under the settlement, 44 Maryland victims and consumers from other states who file verified complaints will receive refunds totaling at least $231,216 in fees they paid the business. Fees ranged from $500 to as much as $15,000 per consumer. The company and its owners also agreed to cease their deceptive practices and to comply with Maryland law if they offer loan modification and foreclosure prevention services in the future.
Consumers seeking more information about this settlement agreement should call 410-576-6337.