Schuette: Flint Residents Should Be Aware Of Potential Water Crisis Scams
Schuette’s Consumer Protection Division released a consumer alert to help Flint residents protect themselves, their families and neighbors by being aware of common scams attempted during crisis situations. The consumer alert offers tips on avoiding scam artists and criminals who may attempt to exploit emergency situations like the one in Flint.
"The outpouring of support and volunteerism in Flint is a reassuring sign of the warmth and compassion Michiganders have for one another, especially during a crisis, and I strongly encourage those in need to seek help,” said Schuette. “But, even in these times of generosity and need, we must be aware of the common scams that could further hurt Flint families and those attempting to assist them. That can be done with a few simple steps before taking action.”
- Schuette Statement on U.S. Supreme Court Stopping Obama/EPA Overreach
February 9, 2016
LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette tonight released the following statement regarding a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court’s to halt implementation of President Obama and the EPA's Clean Power Plan as the legal challenges against it proceed. The Supreme Court’s stay on implementing the rule places the job killing plan on hold until the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court have a chance to review it.
“The Obama Administration’s Environmental Protection Agency has once again been stopped from an attempt to push beyond its constitutional powers. The EPA continues to show that they don’t take the real world into account when they make sweeping rules that change daily life for average Americans. If allowed to move forward, the Clean Power Plan will cause the price of electricity to increase, placing jobs and paychecks at risk and costing Michigan families more."
- Schuette Announces $470 Million National Settlement with HSBC, Michigan Borrowers Will Benefit
February 8, 2016
LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette today announced a $470 million joint state-federal settlement with mortgage lender and servicer HSBC to address mortgage related abuses. Michigan borrowers are expected to receive over $3.5 million as part of the nationwide settlement.
The money will provide direct payments to borrowers for past foreclosure abuses, loan modifications and other relief for borrowers in need of assistance. The settlement also includes more rigorous mortgage servicing standards, and grants oversight authority to an independent monitor.
“This settlement will provide needed financial relief to Michigan borrowers who were negatively affected by unfair mortgage practices executed by HSBC,” said Schuette. “The settlement also includes further protections and stricter operating practices to make sure HSBC treats its borrowers much more fairly in the future.”
Additional parties to the settlement include: 48 other states, the District of Columbia, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
National Mortgage Settlements in Michigan
The settlement complements the $25 billion 2012 National Mortgage Settlement (NMS) and the SunTrust Mortgage Inc. Settlement of over half a billion dollars. Like the previous settlements, HSBC’s settlement stems from allegations of misconduct related to mortgage loans, including origination, servicing and foreclosure.
Borrowers Eligible for Payment
Michigan borrowers whose loans were serviced by HSBC and who lost their home to foreclosure from January 1, 2008 through December 31, 2012 and encountered servicing abuse will be eligible for a payment from the national $59.3 million fund for payments to borrowers. The borrower payment amount will depend on how many borrowers file claims.
Eligible borrowers will be contacted directly with instructions for receiving a payment. Additional information will be posted on the Attorney General's website at www.michigan.gov/ag when it becomes available. Consumers can also call the Attorney General's Office toll-free at 1-877-765-8388.
Apart from payments to borrowers who have gone through foreclosure, the HSBC agreement also requires the company to provide loan modifications or other relief to some borrowers. The modifications, which HSBC chooses through an extensive list of options, include principal reductions and refinancing for underwater mortgages. HSBC decides how many loans and which loans to modify, but must meet certain minimum targets. Because HSBC receives only partial settlement credit for many types of loan modifications, the settlement will provide relief to borrowers that will exceed the overall minimum amount.
Mortgage Servicing Standards
The settlement requires HSBC to substantially change how it services mortgage loans, handles foreclosures, and ensures the accuracy of information provided in federal bankruptcy court.
The terms will prevent past foreclosure abuses, such as robo-signing, improper documentation, and lost paperwork.
The settlement’s consumer protections and standards include:
- Making foreclosure a last resort by first requiring HSBC to evaluate homeowners for other loss mitigation options;
- Restricting foreclosure while the homeowner is being considered for a loan modification;
- Procedures and timelines for reviewing loan modification applications;
- Giving homeowners the right to appeal denials;
- Requiring a single point of contact for borrowers seeking information about their loans and maintaining adequate staff to handle calls.
The National Mortgage Settlement’s independent monitor, Joseph A. Smith Jr., will oversee HSBC agreement compliance for one year. Smith served as the North Carolina Commissioner of Banks from 2002 until 2012, and is also the former Chairman of the Conference of State Banks Supervisors (CSBS). Smith will oversee implementation of the servicing standards required by the agreement and issue public reports that identify whether HSBC complied or fell short of the standards imposed by the settlement. If HSBC is alleged to have violated terms of the agreement, the states and federal agencies can seek relief through the court.
The agreement resolves potential violations of civil law based on HSBC’s deficient mortgage loan origination and servicing activities. The agreement does not prevent state or federal authorities from pursuing criminal enforcement actions related to this or other conduct by HSBC, or from punishing other wrongful conduct.
Additionally, the agreement does not prevent any action by individual borrowers who wish to bring their own lawsuits.
The agreement has been filed as a consent judgment in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
For loans serviced by HSBC Bank USA, N.A., borrowers with questions should call 1-866-435-7085 or call their case manager. For loans serviced by HSBC Mortgage Services, Household Finance, or Beneficial, borrowers with questions should call 1-800-333-7023 or contact their single point of contact.
- Schuette: Lapeer Man gets Life in Prison for 2011 Murder of Girlfriend
February 5, 2016
LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette today announced that Kenneth Grondin, 23, of Lapeer, was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole for the 2011 murder of his girlfriend Andrea Eilber, 20, of Otisville.
“Today’s sentencing brings an end to over four years of waiting in limbo for the Eilber family,” said Schuette. “In cases like this it is always our mission to ensure the family of a victim sees justice and today that was finally achieved.”
Andrea Eilber was found dead on November 16, 2011 in the basement of her aunt and uncle’s home. Grondin, who was her boyfriend at the time, was the only other person with a key to the house, and there was no forced entry. He was also the only one who knew of her whereabouts at the time and the only person who did not participate in any searches to determine her whereabouts. Grondin also made incriminating statements to the investigating officers placing himself at the crime scene and admitting to stealing items from the location, but denied killing Eilber. Eilber’s blood was also found with the clothes that Grondin was wearing the night of the homicide.
The Attorney General’s office took the case in October 2013 due to a voluntary disqualification by the newly appointed Lapeer County Prosecutor.
Grondin was convicted of First Degree Felony Murder on Oct. 23, 2015 after a three week-long trial before Judge Nick Holowka.
- Schuette Warns FlintWater.com of Potential Charitable Solicitation Violations
LANSING – As a follow up to this week’s consumer alert, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette issued a warning to the website FlintWater.com and its owner Daniel Price, of Waterford, due to potential charitable solicitation violations. The warning addressed the website’s unauthorized use of the logos of established charities and organizations. Schuette also said the website must account for all funds raised in the names of these charities.
“I would like to thank Senator Jim Ananich of Flint and the United Way for alerting me and making it possible for my office to take quick action,” said Schuette.
The website displayed the logos of the United Way, Pure Michigan, Flint Water Response Team and the American Red Cross without permission from the organizations or even notifying them of use. As of this time, the logos have been taken down. But, Schuette said this is an example of what he warned consumers about earlier in the week in regarding online contributions being solely used for donors intended purposes.
While he strongly encourages financial contributions and volunteerism, including many helpful uses of crowdfunding and websites, to assist Flint residents, it is important to be sure that funds reach well establish organizations that have the ability to truly help. Donors shouldn’t have to wonder if the website they are contributing truly represents the charitable names they know and trust.
The Michigan Solicitations Act prohibits representing or implying sponsorship as well as the use of a charity’s logo without permission from the charity. Violations of this law are subject to fines of up to $10,000 per violation.
“My priority is to protect Flint residents, especially while they are in a vulnerable situation through no fault of their own,” said Schuette.
Charitable Giving Scams
To help ensure the most of your charitable contribution is used to help Flint residents, take a minute to review the following steps:
- Be cautious of requests for donations by unfamiliar organizations or people.
- Beware of unsolicited phone calls, and text and email appeals on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
- Crowdfunding and other types of internet giving can be tools of tremendous good, but as with any type of giving it can be abused, so it's important to proceed with caution when donating online. A Consumer alert with additional information and advice on crowdfunding.
- Continue to reach out and help Flint residents but be sure to choose established charitable organizations with a history of helping those in need. Search the Michigan charitable giving database.
Door-to-Door Sales and Repair Scams
While not wanting to interfere with legitimate services or visits from governmental entities to your home or business, Schuette noted that another common scam is door-to-door sales of services such as home or business repair, or scammers imitating government workers, such as inspection services seeking to gain entrance to your home or business. For example, scam artists could approach a home owner with promises of repairing plumbing or restoring clean water service to a home. To avoid falling victim to con artists, make sure to take following precautions:
- Beware of door-to-door solicitors. Be cautious when someone appears at your door without a previous connection to you or without you having contacted the business in question beforehand.
- Don’t make any rushed decisions. Do your homework and check out any contractor before you pay them anything or sign any contracts. Do not feel pressured into signing any documents at your door. A legitimate business will give you time to consider a proposal.
- Ask to see the ID of anyone who wants to enter your home or business. It is completely appropriate to check them out by calling the governmental authority or the company they claim to represent.
- Do not let anyone remove your water meter, and do not pay anyone for promising “alternative” water services involving your home plumbing. Under the Flint City Code of Ordinances, unauthorized parties who tamper with city water system equipment may be guilty of a misdemeanor.
- Check the company’s complaint history by calling the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division (toll free) at 1-877-765-8388.
To File a Complaint
Complaints against a licensed builder may be filed with the Michigan Department of Licensing & Regulatory Affairs, Bureau of Commercial Services, Enforcement Division. Complaint filing instructions and complaint form.
Those who suspect fraud are also encouraged to report it to the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721.
Other complaints may be filed with the Attorney General's Consumer Protection Division:
- AG Schuette Charges Former Survivor Contestant with Possession of Child Pornography and Racketeering
LANSING – Michigan Attorney General today charged Michael Skupin, 54, of Oakland County, with six counts of possession of child sexually abusive materials five counts of larceny by conversion, and one count of Racketeering- Conducting a Criminal Enterprise for his role in allegedly running and promoting a Ponzi scheme.
“Not only did this man rob people of their hard earned savings with his financial scams but he victimized innocent children every time he looked at a piece of child pornography,” said Schuette. “This man seems to have no concept or caring for right and wrong and will be prosecuted under the full extent of the law for these horrific crimes.”
Skupin was arraigned Friday, February 5, 2016 in 52-2 District Court in Clarkston before Magistrate Daniel Schuman on the following twelve felony charges:
Six counts of Possession of Child Sexual Abusive Materials, a 4 year felony.
Five counts of Larceny by Conversion, a 5 year felony; and,
1 count of Racketeering- Conducting a Criminal Enterprise, a 20 year felony.
Bond was set at $350,000. If bond is met, Skupin must wear a GPS tether, cannot have any unsupervised visits with children or leave the state. Skupin will next appear in court for a pre-exam conference on Friday, February 19, 2016 at 9 am.
An investigation began into Skupin after victims from his alleged Ponzi scheme contacted a local news reporter. It is alleged that Michael Skupin recruited investors and friends to take part in his “gifting scheme” called Pay It Forward. Victims allegedly made $10,000 cash investments in the scheme. Their money would then cycle through a chart in which participants were eventually paid out of other new investors’ money. The scheme was discovered when eventually there were no new investors signing and most people in the scheme lost all of their money.
Skupin’s laptop was searched in conjunction with the Ponzi scheme investigation. During the search, investigators discovered images of underage children in sexual situations. The images are alleged to belong to Skupin.
A criminal charge is merely an accusation, and defendants are presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty.