Ont. mortgage brokers facing allegations of fraud

TORONTO -- A mortgage broker allegedly used fraudulent documents to help arrange numerous loans, then pocketed anywhere from 10 to 50 per cent of the borrowed amounts.

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Another broker was accused of lying to a pair of investors, telling them the $1.5 million private mortgage they were funding was the first loan on the property, when in fact it was the second.

The broker wrote off the error as "virtually academic" in a subsequent email, according to documents filed with the Financial Services Commission of Ontario, known as the FSCO.

And on three separate occasions, the provincial regulator discovered individuals who claimed to be brokers and were providing mortgage broker services without a licence.

These are just some of the complaints about Ontario mortgage brokers filed with the commission last year and obtained by The Canadian Press through a Freedom of Information request.

The complaints were made by members of the public to the FSCO, the agency tasked with regulating mortgage brokers in the province, between Jan. 1 and July 3 of 2015, when the housing market in Toronto, in particular, soared to historic heights.

They represent only a portion of the total 91 complaints received by the regulator in fiscal 2014-2015.

The mortgage broker industry has been facing increased scrutiny since lender Home Capital announced last year it had severed ties with 45 brokers over allegations they had falsified income information.

The total value of outstanding loans generated by the brokers in question was $1.72 billion as of Sept. 30.

Industry insiders say tightened lending rules and the rise of self-employment have made it tougher for some borrowers to qualify for a mortgage.

"There used to be a little more flexibility, but banks are really rigid now," says Blair Anderson, a Hamilton-based broker and the author of Ask Your Mortgage Broker.

Meanwhile, competition among brokers has become stiffer as their ranks have expanded.

Combined, these factors can make it tempting for brokers, who are paid via commission, to falsify information or use high-pressure sales tactics in order to make sure the deal goes through, observers say.

"You get big paydays when you close the deal," says Cam McCaw, a professor and fraud specialist at Toronto's Seneca College.

However, Anderson says stiffer competition or tougher economic conditions are no excuse for bending the rules in order to get the deal done.

"There's always enough business out there, you just have to work a little harder to drum it up," he says.

Paul Taylor, president and chief executive of Mortgage Professionals Canada, says brokers who are engaging in unscrupulous practices constitute a small proportion of the 25,000 licensed mortgage brokers operating across the country.

In Ontario alone there were more than 2,400 licensed mortgage brokers in fiscal 2013-2014, according to FSCO's annual report.

"I think you're talking about a very small minority of individuals," Taylor said. "The majority of mortgage brokers understand their role as trusted advisers very well."

In British Columbia, the agency tasked with regulating the mortgage industry has proposed a set of amendments that would require brokers to disclose their commissions.

In an open letter to the province's brokers, the Financial Institutions Commission says it has observed the incentives that some lenders offer to get a mortgage broker's business. The agency says it's concerned about the influence that can have on the advice given to clients.

"When your compensation remains hidden from the consumer, it increases the risk that the advice that you're providing to the consumer is not in the consumer's best interest but rather in your own interest," Chris Carter, deputy registrar of mortgage brokers, said in an interview.

The agency also says it's learned that some brokers have been using prohibited, coercive sales practices, such as charging cancellation fees to compel borrowers to follow through.

The B.C. agency received a total of 116 mortgage broker complaints last year. Of those, five led to formal enforcement action, 16 resulted in warnings and four led to conditions on the broker's registration. Another 19 investigations are still open.



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