It's payback time for bilked borrowers

A national mortgage company, Ameriquest, must pay out over $300 million to almost half a million Americans for misrepresenting home loans to customers.

Several thousand Mississippians are eligible to receive up to $1,800 in that settlement.

Attorney General Jim Hood has already started mailing out restitution forms to customers of Ameriquest and its partners, so the more than 2,000 Mississippians duped by the mortgage company can get a share of a nationwide settlement.

"We'll target those areas to try to get the message out to those people that this isn't some kind of a junk mail that they get, they will get money on this one," Hood says.

Hood says Ameriquest misrepresented or did not disclose the terms on home loans. It also charged excessive loan fees and prepayment penalties.

"They tried to encourage some local banks that actually handle it or lenders that handle it to not fully disclose information that is required under federal law."

Hood says Ameriquest and its partners would approach families by phone, often misrepresenting how big a loan they can afford — in other words. preying on a family's desire to own their own home.

Quiten Whitwell, executive director of the Mortgage Bankers Association of Mississippi, says this is definitely not the norm in mortgage banking.

"Putting people into a home is something every loan officer should cherish and should be excited about," he says.

Whitwell says with so many checks and balances in this industry, he finds it hard to believe a company could do this.

"You have appraisers, you have inspectors, you have realtors you have bankers or a loan officer or broker. You have an attorney, you have a title insurance company. There are so many ways a consumer can learn the information they need."

In the end, Hood says Ameriqest took advantage of families wanting to buy a home. Now it must pay up.

We contacted Ameriquest at its corporate headquarters in California. Media representative Chris Orlando released this statement:

"This is an important, final step in Ameriquest's January 2006 agreement with the states that will begin the process of distributing the funds that have been made available for consumers."

If you believe you are eligible to receive money in this settlement, you can call the attorney general's office at 800-281-4418 or visit his website at agjimhood.com.

Those eligible have until September 10 to respond.