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FTC Halts Internet Marketers Falsely Operating as MakingHomeAffordable.gov

At the ""Federal Trade Commission’s"":http://www.ftc.gov/os/caselist/0923147/index.shtm (FTC's) request, a federal district court recently issued an order to stop an Internet-based operation that pretends to function as ""MakingHomeAffordable.gov"":http://www.MakingHomeAffordable.gov, the official Web site of the federal housing relief program for free mortgage loan assistance. The FTC alleged that the defendants deceptively diverted consumers who searched online for the no-cost government assistance program to commercial Web sites that offer loan modification services for a fee.
FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz commented, ""Homeowners who are down on their luck need help, not misdirection by Internet impostors. The Commission will continue to work with the Treasury Department to move quickly against scammers who prey upon financially distressed consumers.""
According to the FTC’s complaint, the defendants purchased sponsored links for their advertising on the results pages of Internet search engines, including Yahoo.com, MSN.com, Altavista.com, and Alltheweb.com. When consumers searched for ""making home affordable"" or similar search terms, the defendants’ ads prominently and conspicuously displayed the Web site address ""makinghomeaffordable.gov.""
Consumers who clicked on this advertised hyperlink were not directed to the official Web site for the government's Making Home Affordable program, but were diverted to Web sites that solicit applicants for paid loan modification services. The FTC said that these commercial Web sites, which are not part of or affiliated with the U.S. government, require consumers to enter personally identifying and confidential financial information. The operators of these Web sites, the agency said, either purport to offer loan modification services themselves or sell consumers’ personally identifying information to other companies that sell such services.
The temporary restraining order, granted by the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, bars the Internet marketers from using the MakingHomeAffordable.gov hyperlink or representing that they are affiliated with the United States government. The order also requires the four search engine providers to identify those who paid them to place the ads, and to refuse to place paid ads that contain active hyperlinks that are labeled MakingHomeAffordable.gov or any other domain name containing "".gov.""
The FTC’s complaint is against one or more persons who are unknown to the agency at this time because the defendants have cloaked their practices in the anonymity of the Internet.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner issued a statement praising the FTC and Chairman Leibowitz for their efforts to crack down on foreclosure rescue scams and loan modification fraud. He said the agency's swift enforcement action against the deceit of these Internet marketers demonstrates the administration's strong commitment to ""protecting the integrity of the program by going after actors attempting to defraud or scam homeowners trying to use the makinghomeaffordable.gov site.""
Neil Barofsky, ""special inspector general"":http://www.sigtarp.gov for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), which assisted the FTC in its investigation, said, ""Frauds that target struggling homeowners will not go unanswered.""
Barofky pledged the two agency's resolve to go after ""any individual or organization that attempts to fraudulently profit off of a national crisis.""

About Author: Carrie Bay

Carrie Bay is a freelance writer for DS News and its sister publication MReport. She served as online editor for DSNews.com from 2008 through 2011. Prior to joining DS News and the Five Star organization, she managed public relations, marketing, and media relations initiatives for several B2B companies in the financial services, technology, and telecommunications industries. She also wrote for retail and nonprofit organizations upon graduating from Texas A&M University with degrees in journalism and English.
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