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SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Watchdog today said executives of leading Internet companies Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! should face criminal charges for their roles in allowing mortgage modification ad scammers to advertise on their sites.

The nonprofit, nonpartisan group’s call came as the Office of the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) announced it had shut down ad scammers on Microsoft’s Bing search engine and Yahoo! Last week SIGTARP shut down scam ads on Google. SIGTARP said the criminal investigation is continuing.

Read the SIGTARP release here: http://www.sigtarp.gov/press/2011/Bing_Yahoo_Web_Ad_Press_Release.pdf

“Simply put, too many Internet companies including Google, Microsoft and Yahoo!, under the guise of  defending an open Internet,  allow and even encourage scam ads from which they make millions of dollars,” said John M. Simpson, director of Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project. “It's got to stop and we are delighted SIGTARP is acting.  Criminal charges should be filed against appropriate executives at these enabling companies. Illicit activity won't end until real people are held accountable.”

SIGTARP said that Microsoft, which founded Bing and whose technology powers Yahoo! Search, has joined Google in suspending advertising relationships associated with the scams identified by the inspector general.

SIGTARP said Microsoft suspended advertising relationships with more than 400 Internet advertisers and agents associated with the alleged online mortgage fraud schemes and related deceptive advertising and has blocked all future advertising associated with the 125 scams identified by SIGTARP.   Last week, Google suspended advertising relationships with more than 500 Internet advertisers and agents associated with 85 of the alleged online mortgage fraud schemes and related deceptive advertising that were advertised on Google.  Some of these scams may have been advertised on one or more search engines, SIGTARP said.

Consumer Watchdog first raised the issue of the mortgage modification scams last February in a report, “Liars and Loans: How Deceptive Advertisers Use Google.”

Read the report here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/liarsandloansplus021011.pdf

“All these companies should never have published these ads, but their executives turned a blind eye to the fraudsters for far too long because of the substantial revenue such advertising generates,” said Simpson. “These Internet company executives were active enablers of fraud against vulnerable homeowners. They cannot be allowed to benefit from these ill-gotten gains.”

SIGTARP said it is arming homeowners with information to make them less susceptible to these scams.  Homeowners can protect themselves from becoming a victim by seeking a HAMP mortgage modification directly through their lender or mortgage servicer or through HUD-approved housing counselors who are available at 1-888-995-HOPE (4673) or www.makinghomeaffordable.gov

HAMP is a free program that does not require a fee to be paid to your lender or a HUD-approved counselor, SIGTARP said.  Homeowners should continue to pay their mortgage directly to their lender and should not send those payments through anyone other than their lender.  Homeowners should be wary of anyone who tells them to stop paying their mortgage or to cease all contact with their lender, as these are hallmarks of a mortgage modification scam.

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Visit our website at: http://www.ConsumerWatchdog.org