Title Insurers Investigation Expands To Calif.

By Daniel Hays

NU Online News Service, Feb. 23, 9:32 a.m. EST?The probe of alleged kickback arrangements in the title insurance industry took a wider stage yesterday with an announcement that California has issued subpoenas to several carriers.[@@]

Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi said he had subpoenaed records of Fidelity National Financial and Land America Financial Group.

Mr. Garamendi, whose investigation follows earlier action in Colorado against title insurers, said the subpoenas order company executives to appear for an April 4 investigatory hearing.

The commissioner said in an announcement of his action that “homeowners are being fleeced. They are the victims of a scam perpetrated by title insurers, realtors, lenders and developers, which forces consumers to pay far too much for their version of the American dream.”

He added that “in the name of greed, title insurers are paying kickbacks by unnecessarily raising the price of premiums and splitting the overcharge with other conspirators. In return, the realtors lenders and developers refer all of their business to that title insurer.”

According to Colorado authorities, as a reward for channeling business to them, the title insurers paid kickbacks disguised as payments for reinsurance. The reinsurance is purchased from captive insurers operated by the firms sending business to the title insurers.

The American Land Title Association trade group has said the carriers’ problems grew out of inadequate guidance by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.