Mortgage Refinancing Shysters II

Yaacov Apelbaum-The Shysters II

In Mortgage Refinancing Shysters, Part I I wrote about some suspicious refinancing solicitation letters I got from the Intercontinental Capital Group (ICG). After writing about it, I got several interesting comments. One cryptic comment came from what appeared to be a former employee who wrote: “I agree with your assessment on ICG and know this for a fact…” Now my curiosity was piqued. What was it that this individual knew?

I performed a detailed search on the term “Intercontinental Capital Group and Fraud” but this time, the search returned many more postings about unscrupulous dealings. There were many negative comments regarding ICG, but I noticed that there were also a few positive ones written by apparently satisfied customers.

The details of the pro-ICG postings were interesting. They appeared to have come from bona fide customers. On the one hand, the language seemed to be unbiased acknowledging some bad online press while on the other hand the writers claimed that they were very satisfied with the quality of service they received from ICG and that the company was entirely above board. One example read:

…I previously cancelled an appraisal appointment that I had scheduled with this company because I read something online that got me nervous especially being a single mom that just got back to work after being injured. I checked out these links and feel a lot better. I am going to give them a call and hopefully the rates are still low because I really would like to get rid of this adjustable rate mortgage and lower my monthly payments.
by educatedconsumer August 6, 2009 5:13

Then last week, I myself received a similar comment on my blog posting from a user who identified himself as “Joseph.” He wrote:

I received one of their letters and refinanced with them. They did a fine job and got me a good rate. I agree that maybe it wasn’t the best way of soliciting business, but it’s a tough market. Either way, they did the job they promised to do.
by Joseph October 28, 2009 13:33

Now, I don’t know about most people, but I certainly don’t spend my free time posting positive comments on blogs trying to sway other readers to believe that allegations of fraudulent or contentious services are unfounded.

I suspected that Joseph had some vested interest in ICG. From the crux of the comment left by him, it seemed that he was so moved by his mortgage refinancing experience that he became overwhelmed with the desire to spread the good news about ICG to the rest of the world.

When I examined the comment source, I noticed that the e-mail associated with it was jennifermargulis@gmail.com. Now it is possible that Jennifer, following the romantic style of George Sand, was using a nom de plume. But on the other hand it was also possible that Joseph was Jennifer’s darker side, I have heard of stranger things before. So I did some more research, then I slipped into my feminine persona and contacted her via e-mail asking for mortgage refinancing advice.

It did not take to long before I received the following ICG e-mail:

Hi Brittney,

Intercontinental Capital Group can probably give you a good rate and fast service. Their website is:

http : //www.intercontinentalcapitalgroup.com

You should contact Brad Allen over there, he can give you the information you’re looking for. His phone number is 212.485.9655. His direct e-mail is ballen@icghome.com.

I hope they are able to help you!

Best,

Jennifer Margulis

————————————————————
Hi,

I am looking into refinancing my home mortgage and would like to get more information about your services and rates.

Can you please provide more information about your offerings?

Best regards,

Brittney Darcey

A quick identify search confirmed my suspicions that Joseph and Jennifer Margulis were indeed one and the same (see image below). It also turns out that Jennifer was in fact an ICG marketing employee on a company mission to rehabilitate the ICG’s public image. Apparently, she found my posting about her company and decided to sprinkle some fluffy propaganda comments. To make them look more credible, her comments were disguised as coming from little Joseph, your all-American, happy and satisfied mortgage customer.

 Yaacov Apelbaum-Jennifer ICG Yaacov Apelbaum-ICG Margulis-1

Deceptive solicitation letters, whitewashing negative customer feedback and impersonating legitimate users in order to lure customers have no place in any business, even less so, in financial organizations that above all should uphold integrity and honesty.

Caveat Emptor

© Copyright 2009 Yaacov Apelbaum All Rights Reserved.

Mortgage Refinancing Shysters I

Yaacov Apelbaum-The Shysters

It may be true that David Hannum was the first to observe that “There’s a sucker born every minute” (ironically, he himself turned out to be a colossal sucker), but it took the marketing genius of P.T. Barnum, the man behind such novelties as the bearded lady to turn gullibility into fortune. The world has changed significantly since the days of Barnum’s traveling freak shows where access to a new audience required lengthy cross country trips. Today, the Internet provides a virtual big top circus ripe with new ways to reel in and deceive, complete with unlimited seating for millions of new victims.

Eberhart and Kennedy in their excellent treatise “Swarm Intelligence” suggest that deception is quite common in social populations and they point out that all of us regularly practice it to one degree or another.  In support of their argument, they discuss the well documented El Farol algorithm frequently used by individuals to effectively compete in social communities in order to gain material or social advantage.

I recently I had occasion to consider this maxim and even try it on for size.  A practical and logical individual, I am by no means naive, so I was surprised—even blindsighted!—to discover that a certain financial advisor that I know personally is in fact a grade A shyster.  This got me to thinking about the varying shades of dishonesty and gullibility and the gray area that exists between telling “the truth and nothing but the truth” and outright lying especially as it pertains to financial solicitations.

You may have noticed that over the last year as the economy has spiraled out of control, the number of mail offers for mortgage refinancing has increased significantly.  The banks—which in the past were the traditional providers of such services—are still hemorrhaging profusely from the blunt trauma inflicted on them by the collapse of subprime mortgages. (I certainly don’t get any more solicitations for HELOC.) In what is further proof of the principal of horror vacui, it seems that the legitimate banking mortgage industry has now given way to a new breed of entrepreneurial ventures.  These con-corporations have smelled the blood in the water and are aggressively following Mr. Bigweld’s motto: “See a need, fill a need”.

Yaacov Apelbaum-ICG Envelope

Realizing that many of these solicitations were probably rip-offs, I decided to test the waters to see if I could find out who was behind one of them. As it happens, I didn’t have to wait long before receiving another mortgage refinancing solicitation letter. This one was from the Intercontinental Capital Group (ICG) and instead of sending it directly to my circular bin, I opened and read.

On the surface, the language and content of the letters was drastically different from the one I’m accustomed to receiving from my bank.  Whereas previous solicitations were factual and down to business, these were laced with crafty and deceptive language.

Yaacov Apelbaum-Intercontinental Capital Group Letter 1
Intercontinental Capital Group Solicitation Letter 1

Yaacov Apelbaum-Intercontinental Capital Group Letter 2  
Intercontinental Capital Group Solicitation Letter 2

After examining the details I found the following noteworthy features:

  • Disingenuous Claims of Previous Communication—In order to lower suspicions and fake familiarity, the letter claims to be a follow up on an already established relationship and ongoing communication.
  • Design to Deceive—The letter contains what on the surface appears to be a legitimate application number, a “second notice” tag, a recognizable equal housing lender logo and acronyms of well known public and federal organizations.  In fact none of these details has any significance and are there simply to create the semblance of legitimacy.
  • Vague and Deliberately Confusing Language—The letter states that ICG is “unconditionally endorsed by the U.S Department of Housing and Urban Development”.  When I called the toll free number I heard: “Thank you for calling the FHA application processing center”. ICG is certainly not a Federal Housing Administration (FHA) application processing center as the FHA neither issues loans directly nor has an application processing center.
  • Skin Deep Corporate Internet Presence—On the surface the company web site appeared to be fully functional, but when I tried to use some of its key functionality (login, change password, etc.) I quickly discovered that none of it worked.

Being deceitful in marketing is not news (see Mortgage Refinancing Shysters II for more details), so I take it for granted that any marketing campaign will always be laced with a certain amount of dishonesty, Seth Godin event thinks that All Marketers are Lairs. But “ICG” takes this to a whole new level.  This shadowy organization not only stretched their marketing collateral, they actually had some serious run-ins with several state banking regulatory agencies.

It appears that the vacuum created by the retreating lending banks is being filled in by old style confidence and run of the mill Internet scam companies. Be mindful of this and remember that “there’s no such thing as free lunch”.  If the mortgage refinancing offer you received looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Caveat Emptor.

© Copyright 2009 Yaacov Apelbaum All Rights Reserved.