WASHINGTON Amerisave Mortgage Corp. and its owner have been ordered to pay more than $20 million for allegedly overcharging borrowers and trapping them in higher interest rates than those advertised.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's order issued Tuesday claims the mortgage lender, an affiliated appraisal company and the owner of both enterprises, Patrick Markert, misled consumers with a "bait-and-switch mortgage scheme."
Amerisave and its affiliated Novo Appraisal Management Company consented to pay $4.5 million in penalties and refund $14.8 million to affected consumers. Markert will pay an additional $1.5 million penalty.
"Amerisave lured consumers in with deceptive advertising, trapped them with costly upfront fees, and then illegally overcharged them for services from an undisclosed affiliate," said CFPB Director Richard Cordray in a press release. "By the time consumers could have discovered the advertised low rates were too good to be true, they had already committed to pay hundreds of dollars to Amerisave. Today's action puts an end to Amerisave's unacceptable bait-and-switch scheme and holds Patrick Markert personally responsible for his illegal actions."
Between the middle of 2011 and 2014, the CFPB said, Amerisave posted inaccurate and inconsistent interest rates in banner ads and rate tables shown on third-party websites directing consumers to the company's own website. The bureau also said consumers were promised interest rates based on credit scores that were higher than they had received. Amerisave also required the consumer to authorize payment for an appraisal before receiving a Good Faith Estimate. The consent order alleges that Amerisave did not disclose to the consumer that Novo was an affiliated company until after the consumer had authorized payment for an appraisal.
According to the CFPB order, the lender also charged consumers for "appraisal validation" reports provided through Novo without informing them that the appraisal company had marked up the cost of the reports by as much as 900%.
"By leading customers to believe they were already obligated to pay such costly fees, often $400 or more, Amerisave restricted consumers' ability to shop for alternative products and better prices," the CFPB said in the press release. "Amerisave also marked up the cost of credit reports by as much as 350%, prior to giving consumers a GFE."
The bureau ordered Markert to pay an individual penalty on charges that he received more than $3 million in indirect profit distributions for requiring consumers to get "appraisal validations" through Novo.
The CFPB has ordered Amerisave to stop advertising misleading interest rates and to stop charging consumers referral fees without disclosing affiliate relationships. It must also hire an independent consultant to review its advertising practices and implement a quality control program. The $14.8 million in refunds that Amerisave and Novo must provide will vary per person depending on how much each consumer paid to the companies, the CFPB said.
A spokesperson for Ameriserve said the company has already addressed the complaints raised in consent order.
"In order to resolve this matter promptly and fully, the company entered into a settlement agreement with the CFPB. Under the agreement, the company did not admit or deny the facts or conclusions," said Dave Ryan, executive vice president of operations at Amerisave in an emailed response. "The issues raised in the complaint have been previously addressed. With this settlement, the company can put its total focus on serving customers by providing high quality service at competitive rates."