The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has been quiet lately, but it’s a new year and the agency’s Robocall Response Team is taking off its gloves again.
After receiving nearly 1,500 unwanted call complaints related to mortgages from consumers in 2022, the agency has announced actions to shut down what it calls a homeowner-focused robocall scam campaign involving Florida-based real estate brokerage firm MV Realty.
The FCC’s Enforcement Bureau has demanded telecommunications companies "do whatever is necessary" to put a stop to suspected illegal traffic from dialing platform PhoneBurner and voice service provider Twilio that it feels is allowing illegal robocall traffic from MV Realty to get through to targeted consumers.
State attorneys general are stepping up to add some muscle to the FCC’s efforts, too. In Pennsylvania, Florida, and Massachusetts, state AGs recently filed lawsuits alleging that MV Realty misled consumers specifically about the terms of the company’s so-called Homeowner Benefit Program, and that the company went even further by obtaining mortgages on consumers’ homes without their knowledge.
Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody laid out the case against MV Realty.
"The defendants offer homeowners $300 to $5,000 as a cash loan alternative in exchange for an agreement to use the company as an exclusive listing broker," Moody said.
"However, after accepting the payment, homeowners discover that MV Realty files a 40-year lien on the property that requires paying 3% of the value of the home to MV Realty, regardless of whether the company ever provides any real estate listing services.
ConsumerAffairs reached out to MV Realty for comment but did not immediately receive a response. However, on the Better Business Bureau website, the company has defended itself against most complaints.
When one homeowner complained that the company placed a lien on his property, the company said it did no such thing.
"I want to make clear, MV Realty does not put a lien on your home," the company wrote. "We file a memorandum. The purpose of the memorandum is to serve public notice of the homeowner's obligations under the *** agreement. The only time a lien is placed on a home is if the homeowner has violated the contract and has listed the home with another realty company instead of giving MV Realty the first opportunity to sell the home. This was made clear in your agreement signed and notarized, as well as the leave behind signed and left with you."
In a November 2022 statement to the media, MV Realty denied that it cold-called prospects.
Do you know what a mortgage relief scam looks like?
Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning distressed homeowners to be mindful of warning signs of a mortgage relief scam. The two most common are if a scammer demands payment upfront before the consumer gets any services. That’s illegal — and a warning sign to avoid them, the agency said.
The other money-oriented telltale sign is if someone demands that they be paid only by cashier’s check, wire transfer, or a mobile payment app. Scammers like victims to pay this way because it’s hard for them to get their money back.
Another “poof, it’s gone” angle is if a scammer tries to convince a person to transfer the deed to their home to the scammer. Again, once that’s done, you can kiss that ownership goodbye, too.
Consumers may be getting tired of hearing this, but the FCC took extra time in its announcement to advise consumers who receive unwanted or suspicious calls to be careful and do these eight things:
Don’t answer calls from unknown numbers;
Be aware that spoofing can make scam calls appear to be local and/or from a trusted institution;
Don’t provide any personal or financial information – including mortgage or home ownership information – to unknown callers;
Remember that legitimate callers will generally not use pressure tactics or demand immediate payment;
Only contact your bank or financial institution using their legitimate contact info from their website or a bill rather than trusting that the unknown caller is calling from that institution;
Talk to friends and family who might be targeted so they understand how to protect themselves from scam robocallers;
File a complaint with the FCC at www.fcc.gov/complaints; and
Contact law enforcement if you have been the victim of a scam.
UPDATE: In an email to ConsumerAffairs, Twilio confirmed that it has blocked the accounts in question -- PhoneBurner and MV Realty -- from its network indefinitely.