Cross-Ontario Mortgage & Notice of Security Interest (NOSI) Scheme
An alarming trend of predatory unfair door-to-door sales contracts and private mortgage lending that targets highly vulnerable homeowning seniors.
Since January 2022, the Advocacy Centre for the Elderly (“ACE”) has regularly received calls from older adults who are shocked to discover that a mortgage or a lien (called a “notice of security interest” or “NOSI”)¹ has been registered against the title to their home without their knowledge or consent.
HOW IT WORKS:
Many of the calls we receive follow the same pattern:
- The older adults are highly vulnerable individuals, typically with limited means and education, and sometimes with marginal mental capacity.
- The older adult homeowners are duped into signing a flurry of unfair door-to-door home service contracts for products and services that they do not need and cannot afford. In most cases, the products and services are grossly overpriced and provide little-to-no value. In some cases they are completely bogus and fraudulent.
- Financing for these door-to-door contracts is obtained and secured by NOSIs, “micro-mortgages” (typically less than $40,000) and/or lodgements of title registered against the title of their house without the homeowner’s knowledge or consent.
- The older adult homeowners are then approached by a “groomer”, who makes repeated visits and falsely promises to get them out of these unfair contracts, free of charge. The older adults are often falsely promised “rebates” if they sign documents presented to them, which can pay for “free” renovations. The older adults are pressured to sign immediately, not given time to read the documents, and copies of the documents are generally not left with them.
- The older adult homeowners later discover that a private mortgage has been placed on their home with unfair terms including high interest rates (up to 25%); high brokerage, referral and lenders’ fees; and pre-payment of interest for the full one-year term (making the mortgage difficult to discover until it becomes due).
- The mortgages are unaffordable given the small fixed pension income of the older adults. As a result, the older adult homeowners often default on the mortgage payments and are served with legal proceedings to sell or foreclose on their home.
- The majority of callers to ACE are low income and cannot afford to retain lawyers in the private bar. As far as ACE is aware, there is currently no accessible remedy absent civil litigation.
Similarly, ACE has received many calls from older adults who discovered they have liens on their homes in extremely large amounts, $40,000 to $60,000 each, for products and services they deny agreeing to.
¹Notices of security interest are liens against equipment that are registered to the title of your home. When it comes time to sell or refinance your home, these notices of security interest are generally required to be paid out before you can sell the home.
TIPS TO AVOID BEING A TARGET OF AN UNFAIR DOOR-TO-DOOR SCHEME:
You can take the following measures to protect yourself from unfair door-to-door sales and NOSI scams:
- Do not allow unsolicited door-to-door salespeople into your home. If you require home equipment or services, do your own research on reputable companies and contact them directly. Make sure that the company you choose has a working phone number and/or email address, and check to see if the address provided is a real location, and not a post office box or mailbox in a UPS Store, for example.
- Search the company’s name with the Better Business Bureau and the government’s Consumer Beware List.
- Be aware that local utility companies, government agencies and regulatory organizations do not send salespeople door-to-door.
- Do not sign any contracts on the spot. Take the time to review contracts carefully and make sure you fully understand all the terms you are agreeing to.
- Know that you have the right to cancel a home service contract without any reason within a 10-day cooling off period, beginning the day you receive a written copy of the agreement.
- Do not sign any documents with any potential lender unless you have received independent legal advice from a lawyer of your own choosing (not a lawyer referred to you by the lender).
- Request copies of your TransUnion (1-800-663-9980) and Equifax (1-800-465-7166) credit reports to see if there are any irregularities. Information on requesting free copies of your credit reports can be found here or by phoning the credit bureaus directly.
- Regularly check your bank statements to make sure there are no unauthorized withdrawals.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE THE VICTIM OF A SCHEME:
If you believe you have been the victim of a mortgage or home service scheme, seek legal advice right away.
Aside from contacting us at ACE, you can contact the following organizations for referrals or legal assistance:
- Law Society Referral Service or call 1-855-947-5255 to speak to a lawyer or paralegal at no cost for up to 30 minutes.
- Pro Bono Ontario 30 minutes of free legal advice over the phone: 1-855-255-7256 (toll free).
- JusticeNet offers sliding scale legal fees to people who do not qualify for legal aid services.
If you are concerned that a crime has been committed, you can contact your local police department. You may also consider reporting the matter to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre via the online form or call 1-888-495-8501.
Complaints to the Law Society of Ontario (LSO)
On August 16, 2023 the Law Society of Ontario issued a bulletin entitled Notice to the Professions: Exploitative Loan Agreements, warning lawyers and paralegals of this “predatory lending targeting the elderly and the vulnerable which involves loans that were secured against the seniors’ homes through transactions in which Ontario lawyers and paralegals have played a role”.
For more information see the LSO Bulletin Notice to the Professions: Exploitative Loan Agreements
It also released a practice support and resource guide titled: Exploitative Loan Agreements on their website. This resource contains topics related to and examples of what to watch out for in this predatory lending scheme including: Lawyer and Paralegal Obligations, Identifying Red Flags, and Breach of Professional Obligations. The guide includes LSO developed resource materials to assist lawyers involved in real estate transactions to heighten their sensitivity to the warning signs of fraud and how to comply with their ethical obligations where a vulnerable client may be being taken advantage of by exploitative or dishonest conduct.
For more information on the LSO practice support and resource guide see the Exploitative Loan Agreements webpage.
If you discover that there was a lawyer who purported to represent you in placing a mortgage or NOSI on your property and you believe they failed to provide you with appropriate legal advice, you may wish to consider bringing a complaint to the Law Society of Ontario. Information about making a complaint is here.
If you would prefer to fill out a complaint form on paper instead of online, you can contact the Law Society at email@example.com or 1-800-668-7380 and ask them to mail you a complaint package.
Bringing a Claim in Court
In Ontario, there is a general two-year limitation period to commence civil actions (“suing someone”), which begins when you knew or ought to have known you had a claim. If you are considering bringing a civil action, we recommend seeking legal advice right away.
Complaints to the Financial Services Regulatory Authority of Ontario (“FSRA”)
All individuals and businesses in Ontario who carry out regulated mortgage brokering activities are required to be licensed with the FSRA unless otherwise exempted by the relevant legislation.
If you have a complaint about a mortgage agent, broker, brokerage, and/or administrator, or if you are concerned that an individual or business carried out regulated mortgage brokering activities without a license, you can make a complaint using the FSRA’s online complaint form or by phoning 1-800-668-0128.
If you have title insurance on your home, you should contact your title insurer immediately to see if this type of matter is covered under your policy. If you are not certain if you purchased title insurance when you purchased your home, we strongly recommend that you contact title insurance companies and ask if you have a title insurance policy on your property with each company. There are five title insurance companies in Canada: Stewart Title, First Canadian Title, Chicago Title, Travelers Canada and TitlePLUS.
You may also wish to contact TransUnion (1-800-663-9980) and Equifax (1-800-871-3250) to have a fraud alert placed on your credit report, and to request copies of your credit report to see if there is any unusual activity.
If you provided a void cheque to or signed an auto-debit form for an individual or business that you believe has engaged in unfair practices, consider changing your bank account.
Complaint to the Ministry of Public and Business Service Delivery
In Ontario, door-to-door sales of goods and services worth more than $50 are generally regulated by the Consumer Protection Act, 2002.
Under the Consumer Protection Act, 2002, you must be given a written contract when purchasing products or services exceeding $50 from a door-to-door salesperson. As well, if a business has represented their goods or services in a false, misleading or deceptive way, you can withdraw from the contract by giving notice to the business within one year to get a full refund.
If a business refuses to give you a refund, you can file a complaint with the Ministry of Public and Business Service Delivery or take legal action. There is a complaint form on the Ministry website or you can call Consumer Protection Ontario at 1-800-889-9768 for assistance in making a complaint.
If you are being repeatedly targeted by businesses calling you at home, consider changing your phone number and registering the number on the national Do Not Call List.
For more reading:
ACE Fall 2023 – Newsletter Article: SCAM ALERT: OLDER ADULT HOMEOWNERS BEWARE (printable version)
Pro Bono Ontario: You Found a Lien on Your Home. Now What?