Predators: Wells Fargo Home Mortgage
Predators: Wells Fargo Home Mortgage
(subsequently published in shortened form in The New Times SLO and in the Santa Maria Sun as "I'm Dancing The Foreclosure Shuffle" on November 17, 2011. Responded to by U.S. Congresswoman Lois Capps in the Santa Maria Sun in the January 5, 2012 Issue)
Maria V. Eyles
By mid-morning, my shoulders slump and my face sinks sideways onto my table, ever-littered with documents, scrawled notes and phone numbers. The so-called “loan modification” people at Wells Fargo have me limp as a rabbit in a wildcat’s mouth, treacherously shaking out my strength, savings, time, and resolve, while their foreclosure attorneys—fangs bared, I imagine—declare another victory for the one percent.
I close my eyes. Images of the old anti-ads against the Big Robber Barons and Evil Employers who lived on child labor sear through me. I don’t want to open my eyes, for I see a very Ugly America now in 2011, one to make Bernie Madoff seem like Shirley Temple’s dress designer.
If for the past thirty years since the deregulation of the powerfully greedy, banks and corporations were on steroids, now they seem to be acting as if on crack cocaine and LSD combined. They are playing with me and millions of others a hunting game called Loan Modification Limbo and Dual-Tracking on the see-through pretext of “helping people stay in their homes.” (Don’t they have “homes” confused with “homeless shelters” in that sentence?) Dual tracking is dangling the client in a loan modification process and a foreclosure process simultaneously so that the bank/mortgage servicer can defraud the applicant of the home by foreclosing on it while the applicant is in good faith waiting for the loan modification to be resolved.
Both are supposed to be illegal, but the banks haven’t heard. We have to guess that all those profits rolling in (in July this year Wells Fargo boasted a piffling 3.4 billion dollar profit in one quarter) deafen them to the cries of the 99%, those of us who actually worked for our homes.
Envisioning this Bunuel/Hitchcock hallucination, I shake my shoulders resolutely and shoot upright at my table. “No way! These predatory swindlers will not get their greasy fingers on MY house!”
My condo/townhome here in Pismo Beach, California, is the only real bank account I have. The little equity left was forged from the 35 years of work that my late husband Geoffrey, a research scientist, civil and structural engineer, and I (California Community College Instructor, writer and editor) put into it. My husband and I actually made a conscious effort to make less money in our fields in order to contribute to the betterment of our society and the great and beautiful State of California. Guess that made us saps in the eyes of the banks, big business, and unfortunately the legislatures.
Now a widow on disability, I did well with the house for many years before being suckered into a bad loan by a Wells Fargo rep. I hold myself completely responsible though—so much so that I spent the last four years trying to refinance it. Wells Fargo refused me a refinance option over and over while extending me much credit. The evasion, we now know, was because they no longer had any say in the loan, but had sold it to some ruthless speculators, who turned it into “mortgage backed securities,” which means it is lost somewhere in a pool of millions of dollars. I have no real investor, but that cardboard “investor” has total power over my fate.
My story parallels millions of others. Hardship upon hardship ensued, ironic backfirings of my trying to improve my financial situation. In October of 2010 I first phoned WF’s Loss Mitigation department. That day a year ago I joined the rest of the P.T. Barnum Company of the Bamboozled and was “invited” to try for a loan modification and a HAMP. Ha. I would have done better getting on a plane to Lourdes.
Since then, endless unpaid full-time work filling out forms for a voracious Wells Fargo Paper Mill has only heightened my despair. That shoulder-slumping morning, I rallied remembering the success I had upon plying some tactical judo and turning this intensive writing and paperwork against Wells Fargo. Recently my irate letters got the attention of U.S. Congresswoman Lois Capps’ offices, whose intervention had, in turn, catapulted me as far as the Offices of the President of Wells Fargo Home Mortgage.
I picked up my landline and dialed Congresswoman Capps’ San Luis Obispo office, where a wonderful advocate had been helping me. Meantime I ignored my cell phone whose display blinked with realtor after realtor wanting me to hire them for short sales. No! I hissed back at the muted display. Not yet.
Miraculously, the young woman assigned to me at Representative Capps’ office answered the phone. I asked if she could aid “communications” with Wells Fargo. My fourth representative—oh, I mean “Home Preservation Specialist”*—in four weeks apparently decided not to respond to my six messages in response to his insistence that I get in touch with him 72 hours previously. The congresswoman’s advocate (a case worker, not an attorney) was happy to help by phoning him on special congressional lines. This—and only this—worked.
Aside: *The travesty of the titles of these reps from Wells Fargo boils my Italian blood: They are actually called “Home Preservation Specialists.” Quite an insult to the millions of Americans whose homes they have foreclosed on. The name also suggests that, among others, the true reason they keep you dangling about your loan modification right up until the hour of the auction block is so you don’t inflict damage on the house as they drag you out kicking and screaming. That way they can “preserve the home” for the bank’s speculative realtors. Big joke on the dummy client.
To continue, this Mr. P from Wells Fargo Mortgage, office of the president, did phone me back almost immediately. (How great it felt to put pressure the other way around.) The “resolutions” he spoke of on the message felt to me like the Cadillac version of The Run- Around, that is, no resolution at all. The Run-Around is a dance invented by Wells Fargo Home Mortgage where you only step backward, in circles, covering the same old ground, sure to get nowhere, very, very slowly, like blood-letting by leech.
The Run-Around Bank Limbo Rock goes like this:
Demand a 35-75 page application packet
Rush the client with threats of shredding the instantly obsolete packet
Lose the packet, and repeat steps one and two several more times
Sit On the packet for months
Reject the packet
Repeat Steps one and two
Change Partners (the “specialist”) then repeat all the steps above, again
Promise to get the packet to the underwriter within 3-5 days
Go back on Promise and go the other direction
Begin Foreclosure Double Cross
Repeat all the moves from Step One
Stall till moments before the grand finale
Refuse the loan modification
Pose like a vulture and swoop down on client’s home
Foreclose on the home; or, levy heavy fines and fees on your “partner”
This is the premeditated theft so many banks have choreographed, a sorcery of poorly performed illusions under the guise of “helping people stay in their homes.” None of this is in the spirit of the Emergency Stabilization Act of 2008, which spawned fair guidelines for HAMP and othe loan mod programs in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. No—it is a new form of predatory lending practices.
What defines human predators is a total lack of empathy and conscience. The fact that someone gets hurt, tormented or even killed is matter of complete indifference to a human predator. By contrast, in the nights surrounding this phone call, I had brushes with two different kinds of predators.
“Mountain lion sighting” the little piece on the online TheTribune (San Luis Obispo) said. This was at 10:50 p.m., just before I was to take my dog Raphael on his final walk, and just before every place shuts up for the night here in dark, deserted little Pismo Beach. “In Chumash Park, off the Fourth Street Exit,” the article informed. A MapQuest search made my scalp tighten: Chumash Park is less than one mile from my house as the equity flies! A curious or hungry mountain lion could easily saunter through the brush, cross along the railroad tracks and creek under Highway 101, and come into Ira Lease Park just steps from my house. Sauntering would take a few minutes; running would take no time at all.
For the next fifteen minutes I sat paralyzed at the computer screen, trying to figure out what to do. It does not help that my dog Raphael, a giant blue shepadoodle, looks exactly like a sheep from a distance. Surfers off Pismo Pier regularly come out of the water exclaiming that they had never seen anyone walk a lamb on the beach till now. Then they get closer and laugh…sheepishly. Call me unimaginative, but I just don’t think a mountain lion would stop to make the inquiry about Raphael’s species.
Not only is Ira Lease Park steps away from what is still my house for a month, but the streets of Pismo Beach at night are a chiaroscuro patchwork of parking lots, alleys and illumination around the boardwalk and hotels.
Finally I grabbed Raphael’s leash then shoveled him into the back seat of our car, mercifully parked at the foot of my stairs. I took off for Shell Beach and the Spyglass Inn four miles north. There I yanked the poor canine around, exhorting him to hurry up with his duty. Not sniffing or detecting anything awry, except my palpitant fear, Raffy gave me that intelligent, withering look of serene pity that I have only seen in German Shepherds (half his heritage). He refused to produce for me not quite enough pee to fill a tiny vial.
A mountain lion, in all its vehement beauty, evokes a clean, unpremeditated kill. An un-premedicated one too, for that matter. Thus the fear the cougar evokes is visceral, natural. Such a bone-shuddering scenario as death-by-mountian lion is motivated by hunger, defense of cubs, the refusal to become prey: Raphael and I traipse innocently into Ira Lease Park, unaware of the creature lounging on a high tree limb above us. Her neck stretches to alertness, and in regal calm her yellow eyes record every detail of size, shape, movement and distance. We move closer. Noiselessly she crouches, poised….A soft thud from behind, a crash; one or both of us a blood-streamed puppet, slashed by razor claws while she nuzzles for the jugular.
The prospect is terrifying. Yet this primordial fear is one the human body-psyche can instinctually cope with, even prevent. Thrust into a high alert fight-or-flight mode as I have been for the last week, a person can take great precautions to prevent such an encounter by avoiding the sighting area especially at dawn, dusk or nighttime, and sticking to lighted, semi-populated areas.
Taking just such precautions a few nights later, I learn that not all predators can be avoided. Raphael and I wended our way toward the boardwalk and hotels around 10:30 p.m. A circling parade of Pismo Beach police cars and a group of nicely dressed adults on one corner let us know we were not alone this night.
At the boardwalk, I wave at one of the officers. We all know each other by sight from our respective late night rounds. Often the patrol cars will slow down and wave when they see my flashlight’s halo. But this time this officer addresses me.
“Did you see anything strange or unusual?”
“Like a mountain lion?”
“No—we haven’t found the lion yet. Like a young (ethnicity mentioned) man running on foot.”
“Robbery?” I remembered the well-dressed people huddled on the street corner.
“No—street fighting. Not a pretty picture. Fight with his girlfriend. Apparently he was kicking her while she was lying on the ground. Some people ran downstairs to help and called us. He ran off.”
I raised up my cell phone. “I have you right here. I’ll let you know if I see him.”
The officer took off jogging toward the SeaVenture. Beyond the boardwalk, the headlights of a patrol car zoomed along the strand. Raphael and I stood alone again on the deserted boardwalk. The ocean gleamed in patches under the low-lights of the moon. Swallowed up in the velvet blackness was another predator lurking, maybe stalking.
The young man—a predator? Yes. Abusive and violent—yes. Dangerous—definitely. His assault on his girlfriend—an appalling criminal act? Of course. But under most California Statutes, a crime only because there are visible cuts and bruises to “prove” it. Some torn clothing, a trace of DNA; in this case, witnesses.
The mental ambuscades of cruelty and abuse built into the WF (and other Big Bank) loan modification process are, on the contrary, are just as damaging to human life but “invisible” and hard to prove. Yet, like in any other case of domestic or workplace emotional abuse/bullying, the “home preservation specialists” are expert abusers, whether conscious of it or not. They use all the same methods of the narcissistic sadist. Here I quote psychologist Linda Martinez-Lewi, Ph.D., speaking of sadistic narcissists in divorce cases:
The narcissist often starts out with the commitment that he (she) will be cooperative. He puts the spouse off guard and leads her to believe that the settlement and the decisions about custody will be fair. The word “fair” is not part of the narcissist’s vocabulary….During a divorce, the narcissist uses intimidation, stalling, empty promises, psychological manipulations and hidden agendas. When the narcissist thinks he has his soon to be ex-partner up against a wall, he turns the screws….No matter what the agreement is at the time, the narcissist will always find flaws: “I need one more form; I need time.” (emphasis mine) --www.wellsphere.com
Once you see them listed as above, it isn’t hard to match up the abuse to the loan mod process:
Intimidation while in negotiations: “You sent us the wrong documents. Now you’ll have to start over.” [Also counts for nitpicking] “You are 91 days late on your payments. We are starting foreclosure proceedings
Stalling: the average loan mod application takes 12-18 months, and very few relatively are approved.
Empty promises, a.k.a LIES: a steady diet chokes the client/victim of deceit: “As soon as you get us the rest of the documents, we will pass them on to the underwriter.”
Fault-finding and nitpicking: (“You didn’t fill in your f4506t form right. Read line nine. Do it right or we can’t accept it.” [Of course, they never tell you exactly what they want on line nine, so you keep guessing and faxing.] “You signed but forgot to re-date page 37 in your 85-page application packet. That makes the packet invalid.”
Psychological manipulations: Everything they say, and everything so far covered here are psychological manipulations. Two other psychologically abusive, crazy-making techniques that pervade the loan modification offices are gaslighting and double-binds. In gaslighting, the abuser denies that real events have taken place in order to throw the victim off-guard and make her doubt her perceptions and sanity. This is a diabolical way to “blame the victim,” as are many of the other techniques. A double-bind is a Damned If You Do—Damned If You Don’t command, so that when the victim tries to obey the command, nothing she can possibly do is right. This paralyzes her, and turns her into prey.
A conversation I had with my third Wells Fargo “specialist” illustrates both, and more:
Mr. J: You didn’t send in all the bank statements for XYZ Bank. (gaslighting)
Me: Yes, I absolutely did. They are right behind the Wells Fargo accounts.
Mr. J: I’m looking right at your 71 pages, and they are not there. (gaslighting)
Me: Yes. They are.
Mr. J: Well, some of them are here, but I can’t read them. (gaslighting; fault-finding) You sent too many statements. (Double-bind: I sent only what they requested only.)
Me: They are ALL there. Why can’t you read them?
Mr. J: They’re a mess. I don’t like them this way. (obstructivism)
Me: So you don’t want to read them even though they are there in front of you? So, what way would you like them? [Thank heaven I bit my tongue before telling him where he could have them.]
Mr J: Well, you need to send them separately but all together. (double-bind: impossible command)
We went around with this double-bind for a while. He decided he wanted cover pages for each account, which meant separating statements with two accounts piggy-backed on them.
Mr. J: Why do you have so many accounts? Why do you keep moving little amounts of money from one to the other? This makes no sense to us. (demeaning the victim by criticizing something personal that is not his business.)
Me: Mr. J! That’s irrelevant, but I do that in order to have enough bill money each month, if you need to know! By the way, Mr. J—I DID send a hard copy along with the fax. You should have that too.
Mr. J: Well, you didn’t send it to me. (retro double-bind)
Me: No, because you weren’t my “specialist” at the time! It was Ms. H. I sent it to her. Why don’t you ask her. Or maybe it was Ms. M, whom the bank switched me to the day I sent the package, just to make sure it got lost, I’m sure.
Mr. J: Well, because you didn’t send it to the right person, I’m sure it went to Imaging. (blaming the victim)
Me: Well, then can you ask Imaging to give it to you?
Mr. J: I’m sure they just shredded it. You’ll have to send it again (all of the above). Hurry up or the whole package will be stale…in three days it will be stale!” (coercion; threats)
Finally, hidden agendas: Wells Fargo Mortgage has One not-so-hidden Agenda: To grab up people’s homes. “No loan mod. So now we have to sell it tomorrow at noon at foreclosure auction. Have a nice day!”
The Machiavellian minds behind this Loan Mod Scam know very well that the human brain is not equipped to handle this kind of stress, frustration, and abuse. Double-binds are particularly dangerous because they really do paralyze proper thought functioning, much like giving a computer an unsolvable math equation.
Unlike the primal fear the mountain lion evokes—or even the violent man abusing his girlfriend—this kind of psychological abuse/bullying, which goes on in many workplaces, renders people deeply confused, paralyzed, powerless, depressed and physically ill. This destruction occurs because it is only too easy to believe the “reasonableness” of the abusers’ insane requests, or to think you were mistaken about the hint of contempt in the voice.
Even in that warren of half-lit little streets in nocturnal Pismo Beach, there may have likely been a collision of hearts, of passions, and of loyalties that drove the young man out of his human self into animal mode. As intolerable as his act was, at least it was motivated by some emotion, distorted of course, but perhaps normally human at the start one hopes. In the theater, don’t we feel a teensy bit of empathy for the jealousy-tormented Othello? Only because it is human as well as reprehensible? Perhaps the man will regret his behavior, and feel lasting guilt. And at the very least, when caught, that predator will pay for his cowardly abuse.
“The banks can do whatever they want!” is the chorus from all agencies involved in my case, including HUD, and every attorney’s office I have spoken to. Can they? Can the banks do anything they want? This financial mafia reigns from distant, sterile offices, spouting soul-killing policies, fattening their pockets with government bail-outs, and arrogantly treating troubled clients like dirt, while barely covering up their criminal intent to steal their homes.
The Occupy Wall Street movement, now world-wide, is a fresh stream of sanity in an increasingly crazy world. I urge all who are as unhappy as we are to hit back where it hurts: Follow the Bank Transfer Day wherever possible and close any checking and savings accounts you now have in the big corporate banks like Well Fargo. Instead, re-invest that money in your local credit union, where you will have a say in how it is handled. They’ll start to listen harder if their assets start to dwindle, like yours and mine.
And as to me, if I have a choice, I’ll take my chances with the mountain lion.