Industry News

Loan mod bandits

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That was the slogan — in large capital letters and sans the necessary apostrophe in the first word — that loomed on a billboard over Century City, a tony neighborhood near my home in Los Angeles.

The billboard showed a masked bandit dressed in black-and-white prison stripes and a knit cap. On his back was a banker-style moneybag, complete with a big dollar sign on it. The bandit was caught in a spotlight and, just in case anyone missed the point, a big arrow with the words "YOUR MORTGAGE LENDER" pointed to the bandit’s head.

Century City is a small, decidedly high-rent district snuggled between Beverly Hills and West Los Angeles. The area’s most prominent feature is an open-air shopping mall with a Bloomingdale’s department store, a multiplex movie theater and an upscale food court that hands out stainless steel cutlery instead of the usual plastic utensils.

The billboard was positioned along the eastbound approach to the shopping mall on a major boulevard that was once part of the famed Route 66. It occupies on one of the rare vacant weed-infested lots in the area next to a half-built parking structure.

Caught in the act of thievery, the bandit on the billboard was clearly meant to appear sneaky and menacing. But the sign was incomprehensible. Sure, lenders made a lot of lousy loans, and yes, a lot of homeowners were hurt by those loans whether through their own greedy behavior or because they’d been victims of financial predators.

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But how did that result in a sign that said, "Don’t let your lender take your money?" Huh? How could that possibly make any sense? And what was the connection (if any) to loan modifications?

The second billboard was located 5.4 miles away on a major boulevard in a tiny pocket of Los Angeles, just north of Culver City. There is no Bloomingdale’s in this part of town. Instead, the billboard loomed over a corner strip mall that contained a nail salon, dentist’s office, donut shop, children’s resale clothing store and ethnic restaurant.

This billboard didn’t feature the bandit/lender character, but it had the same telephone number, the same "Available 24/7" verbiage, and the same big capital letters, which read: "DON’T DELAY. MODIFY YOUR HOME LOAN TODAY!" It also had a new feature: a Better Business Bureau shield.

As a homeowner, I was dismayed to discover these billboards within a few miles of my home. House prices have declined here as they have elsewhere, and there are no doubt some short sales and foreclosures in the area, but the pain has been mild compared with the experience of communities in harder-hit parts of California. …CONTINUED