FICO to walkaways: You're on our screen

Will early-warning system make homeowners think twice?

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Fair Isaac, developer of the ubiquitous FICO score, has a new warning for homeowners plotting a strategic default or walkaway: We can now spot you in advance. We’ve developed a black-box risk-identification tool that enables lenders and mortgage servicers to tag you months in advance — and then pursue their own strategic measures to intervene.

The tool is so effective, according to FICO, that it can "capture nearly 67 percent of strategic defaulters" who are otherwise unremarkable and undetectable, paying their mortgages on time.

Sound a little spooky? Not for the major lenders who are working with FICO to install the new statistical risk-scoring model, aimed at some of the costliest and most perplexing defaulters in the marketplace: people who just stop paying on their loan abruptly, without ever previously being late, even though they have the income to pay.

Strategic walkaways are a multibillion-dollar headache to banks and investors. A study by researchers at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business found that during last September alone, 35 percent of mortgage defaults in the U.S. were strategic — up sharply from 26 percent in March 2009.