Washington Charges HighTechLending with Deceptive HECM Advertising

The state of Washington this week charged HighTechLending, Inc. with using deceptive and misleading reverse mortgage advertising practices dating back to 2013.

Washington’s Department of Financial Services seeks $300,000 in fines from the Irvine, Calif.-based lender, as well as a cease-and-desist order regarding the offending advertisements.

The complaint largely focuses on omissions from HighTechLending’s marketing materials, which the state has been logging since an initial review of the company’s forward-mortgage advertising in 2011.

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For instance, the state noted that a nine-page HighTechLending brochure called “Mortgage Solutions for Seniors” did not include all of the potential conditions required to avoid foreclosures, and omitted a discussion of mortgage insurance premium fees — while also touting the Home Equity Conversion Mortgage’s government insurance backing.

In another FAQ, Washington authorities alleged, HighTechLending implied that HECM borrowers cannot face foreclosure and failed to disclose that the information was not approved by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Housing Administration.

The complaint also includes accusations of repeat assertions that HighTechLending could offer reverse mortgage loans with “no costs or fees.” In addition, direct mailings described the HECM as a “new government regulated benefit,” and told recipients that they were receiving a “payment reduction status” from a “rate reduction department.”

“We will not tolerate deceptive advertising of reverse mortgage products to Washington residents,” said Charlie Clark, the department’s director of consumer services, in a statement. “Washington’s seniors need to be well informed about reverse mortgages before taking out such loans, and there is no place in our state for reverse mortgage advertisements that are false or misleading.”

HighTechLending president Don Currie, who is named in the Washington complaint, said his company has already taken steps to rectify the issues.

“HTL took swift and decisive action to emphasize that taxes and insurance must be paid on all reverse mortgage loan advertising to avoid foreclosure, as well as ensuring that all our marketing [materials] meet state and federal guidelines,” Currie told RMD.

HighTechLending — which also does business under the names American Senior, Golden Heritage Financial, and American Mortgage Group — currently sits at number eight on Reverse Market Insight’s list of top HECM lenders; the firm turned in 1,420 endorsements during the 12 months ended August, with the majority coming from retail loans.

The company has spent a total of $11 million on advertising over the last two years, according to officials. But Currie said that the offending materials represented only a small slice of HighTechLending’s overall marketing efforts.

“These materials were limited in scope and distribution as they were only used by one of our eight licensed Washington branches and, upon notice from the DFI of their problematic nature, we immediately discontinued their use,” Currie said. “HTL has over 50 licensed branches operating in 18 states, and this is the only instance of a regulatory violation for our use of marketing materials in over 10 years.”

The company also recently hired a new general counsel and director of compliance, Michael Minck, to oversee its ongoing relationship with regulatory authorities, Currie said.

“The DFI is informed the since the outset of its investigation, HighTechLending has adopted policies and procedures designed to prevent HECM advertising violations,” state officials said.

Should the state of Washington get its way, HighTechLending will be forced to pay the fine, cover the state’s investigation costs, and stop using the offending marketing materials.

“Besides misleading consumers, false advertising harms competition and takes business away from law-abiding mortgage brokers and consumer loan companies,” Clark said.

Written by Alex Spanko