Feds Widen Inquiry of Online Mortgage Scams

The Associated Press
mortgage scam
mortgage scam

SAN FRANCISCO -- A criminal investigation into mortgage swindlers has expanded beyond deceptive advertising on Google's Internet search engine to root out con artists who were luring their victims on Bing and Yahoo, too.

Monday's news of the widening probe confirmed that the Internet's three largest search engines had been turned into tools of prey for crooks looking to bilk homeowners scrambling to avoid foreclosure. The scams involved online ads which make bogus promises to help people hold onto their homes through a government-backed program to modify mortgage payments.

After finding their victims by using ads triggered by phrases such as "stop foreclosure," the swindlers extracted upfront fees or arranged to have the mortgage payments sent them without providing any assistance. The ruses had become increasingly common.

The crackdown had shuttered 125 mortgage scams by Monday, up from 85 last week, when the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program announced that it was cleaning up the misconduct on Google. The U.S. Treasury Department division said many of the con artists bought ads on all three search engines.

The identities of the alleged swindlers haven't been disclosed, partly because the criminal investigation is still open. A spokesman for agency steering the investigation declined to provide further details Monday.