So you got ripped off. Or, at least, you think you did. You paid $3,000 to a loan modification company to solve your mortgage problems and they were no help at all. Or to avoid foreclosure, you temporarily signed your home over to someone else, but now they won't let you get it back. Or maybe you just want to file a complaint against a lender or real estate agent for something that, if not downright illegal, was definitely unethical, at least in your eyes.

If you think you may have been a victim of mortgage fraud, or simply think you got a raw deal in a real estate transaction, it helps to know where to complain. There are a variety of federal and state agencies that investigate and prosecute mortgage fraud, while others specialize in investigating complaints against licensed entities such as banks, credit unions, real estate agents and others.

Complaints about mortgage frauds and predatory lending practices have grown as the economy has soured and increasing numbers of homeowners face financial strains and even foreclosure. And government agencies are taking mortgage fraud increasingly seriously, with new investigations and prosecutions by federal authorities and state attorneys general announced almost weekly.

Depending on who you contact, different agencies focus on different outcomes. The FBI and state attorneys general are likely to be focused on serious cases that merit criminal prosecution. Banking, financial and real estate regulatory bodies will likely be focused on disciplinary actions related to a license or charter. Other groups may not have enforcement powers, but can provide useful advice for dealing with mortgage fraud and predatory lending.

Reporting criminal complaints on mortgage fraud

Here's a list of some of the agencies most commonly contacted to report mortgage fraud or predatory lending, and some suggestions on when to contact each.

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI): White-collar crime, including mortgage fraud and other economic frauds, is one of the FBI's top criminal priorities. In general, the FBI's interest will be in deceptions used to influence a transaction involving a financial institution. To report suspected mortgage fraud, contact the FBI field office nearest you.

State Attorney General: Along with the FBI, the office of your state attorney general is the other main agency for reporting criminal mortgage fraud. Many state attorneys general maintain consumer hotlines for reporting economic crimes or complaints, some of them devoted specifically to mortgage fraud.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC): The FTC doesn't investigate individual cases of mortgage fraud, but does have a keen interest in pursuing it systematically. Reporting individual cases may help them identify patterns of wrongdoing. It has a particular interest in mortgage frauds that involve identify theft.

For less serious complaints about lenders and others

For less serious complaints that may be unethical but not rise to the level of criminal action, you can file a complaint with any of several entities that license or otherwise regulate financial institutions. These commonly investigate complaints and may issue sanctions against offending license holders. These include:

Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC): For complaints involving national banks.

National Credit Union Association (NCUA): For complaints involving federally chartered credit unions.

State Department of Finance or Banking: Most states have a department of finance, banking or a similar name that regulates state-charted banks and credit unions, as well as mortgage lenders and brokers in that state. Contact them to file complaints against any of these.

State Real Estate Commissions: Most states have a real estate commission or an agency by a similar name that regulates real estate agents and brokers. Some also have a separate board to regulate appraisers as well. Contact them for complaints regarding licensed professionals in these fields.

For advice and assistance on dealing with mortgage fraud

The following agencies have no enforcement power, but can offer advice or other assistance:

U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD): HUD has extensive information for consumers on avoiding mortgage fraud, as well as a nationwide network of counseling agencies that can advise consumers on a variety of financial issues related to home ownership for little or no cost.

Better Business Bureau: The BBB doesn't have enforcement powers, but strives to persuade businesses to do what's right. It can be helpful in dealing with legitimate businesses who are concerned about their public image. They have numerous local offices across the country.

Center for Responsible Lending: A nonpartisan research and advocacy group working to eliminate abusive financial practices, it offers a variety of consumer resources for dealing with mortgage fraud. National Fraud Information Center: An agency of the National Consumers League, it primarily targets frauds against the elderly.

Published on June 19, 2009