WASHINGTON - Federal regulators unveiled two initiatives this week to ferret out unfair and abusive lending practices at national banks and thrifts.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency on Wednesday directed examiners to more thoroughly review national banks' loan portfolios for predatory characteristics and violations of fair lending laws.

On Thursday the Office of Thrift Supervision began a pilot program to send people posing as potential borrowers into institutions to help identify discriminatory lending practices.

Making good on a promise he made to the House Banking Committee in May, Comptroller John D. Hawke Jr. issued guidelines this week calling for supervisors to be alert for signs that an institution may be engaging in such practices.

Indicators include loans made with foreclosure the intended result, high interest rates and fees, inadequate disclosure of the true costs and risks, and frequent refinancings that strip equity from the borrower.

The OCC plans to issue additional guidelines soon on safety and soundness concerns raised by predatory lending.

The guidelines are expected to detail enforcement actions the agency will take, including adversely classifying these loans and prohibiting further accrual of interest.

The OTS said it will use its test program to determine whether sending so-called "mystery shoppers" into thrifts is a feasible way to monitor the industry's compliance with fair-lending law.

During the next several months, mystery shoppers will visit a handful of thrifts whose risk profiles indicate the strong possibility of prescreening or other discriminatory practices. Violators are to be referred to the Justice Department.

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