The Federal Trade Commission and the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI) are taking action against various companies doing business as Home Matters USA, Academy Home Services, Atlantic Pacific Service Group, and Golden Home Services America, and the owners of the companies, Dominic Ahiga and Roger Scott Dyer, for operating a sham mortgage relief operation that misled consumers and cost them millions. In the first case brought jointly by the two agencies, the FTC and DFPI allege that the companies charged consumers thousands of dollars with false promises they would negotiate with consumers’ mortgage lenders to alter their loans, at times even representing they were affiliated with government COVID-19 relief programs. A federal court has temporarily shut down the operation and frozen the assets of the defendants in the case.
“At a time when millions of Americans were dealing with a pandemic and struggling to pay their mortgages, defendants preyed on consumers with false promises of mortgage assistance relief” said Samuel Levine, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “We are excited to build on our relationship with California’s DFPI in this case and will continue to work with our state partners to shut down schemes that take advantage of consumers experiencing financial hardship.”
“Illegal mortgage relief assistance schemes prey on the most vulnerable homeowners and are a significant threat to the generational wealth that home ownership provides for consumers,” said DFPI Commissioner Clothilde Hewlett. “The DFPI has taken strong, decisive action against the companies behind this scheme using the California Consumer Financial Protection Law to put a stop to their illegal activities and protect not only California consumers, but also consumers nationwide.”
The defendants have pitched their services under a number of names, including Academy Home Services, Atlantic Pacific Service Group, Golden Home Services America, and Home Matters USA among others. The FTC and DFPI complaint alleges that they have been deceiving consumers since at least June of 2018 with false promises that they can negotiate lower interest rates or payments.
The investigation in this case found that the defendants target distressed homeowners with their deceptive claims in telemarketing calls, text messages and online ads, often promising that in just three months, they can get consumers’ mortgages modified. In many cases, the complaint alleges, they claimed to be affiliated with government agencies or that their services were part of government COVID-19 assistance programs. When consumers paid for the defendants’ services, they rarely, if ever, get the promised modifications, and instead are harmed by the scheme in numerous ways:
- Deceiving consumers about their services: The defendants, as part of the sales process, regularly misled consumers, saying they had a track record of success and were able to “beat the system.” Consumers would receive documents with bogus claims about specific changes to their mortgage, including lowered interest rates or payments, but the complaint alleges that the defendants regularly failed to deliver any meaningful benefit to consumers.
- Costing consumers money and harming their credit: While the defendants charged consumers, many of whom were already struggling with mortgage payments, hundreds or even thousands of dollars, the harms extended beyond that loss. In many cases, the defendants told consumers not to pay their mortgage while using their “services,” leading to many consumers facing late fees and significantly lower credit scores.
- Costing consumers their homes: According to the complaint, the defendants require consumers to sign “cease and desist” letters that are sent to their mortgage lender, requiring the lenders to communicate only with the defendants. By not receiving notices of missing payments or default even as they continue to pay defendants, some consumers have found themselves in foreclosure.
The complaint alleges that the defendants’ practices violate numerous laws and regulations, including the FTC Act, the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, the COVID-19 Consumer Protection Act, and the California Consumer Financial Protection Law.
The individual defendants in this case are Dominic Ahiga and Roger Scott Dyer. The corporate defendants in this case are Apex Consulting & Associates, Inc., Green Equitable Solutions, Infocom Entertainment Ltd, Inc., and South West Consulting Enterprises, Inc.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint and request for a temporary restraining order was 5-0. The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. The court entered the temporary restraining order against the defendants on September 14, 2022.