Ottawa is looking into mortgage brokerages, not to make sure they’re lending responsibly, but to make sure they’re protecting personal information.
The audit, which industry sources say began this month, is looking into the potential misuse of consumers’ information to carry out fraud such as identity theft. It’s an issue that carries added significance in the wake of the U.S. subprime mortgage crisis, because mortgage brokers and lenders are now being pushed to request even more information and documentation from borrowers.
“The reason that we are doing this is we have been concerned that personal financial information of Canadians might have been falling into the wrong hands,” said Anne-Marie Hayden, a spokeswoman for the privacy commissioner’s office.
“There have been numerous breaches reported to our office over the course of the last year or so.”
Ms. Hayden stressed that the audit is still in the preliminary stages, and it is too early to say what practices within the industry it might uncover.
“There is tremendous fraud going on in the broker industry,” said Alex Haditaghi, chief executive of Mortgagebrokers.com, a Toronto-area mortgage broker. The privacy commissioner’s probe is “much needed,” he added.
The Financial Services Commission of Ontario, which is responsible for the oversight of mortgage brokers in that province, recently issued a warning to the industry that it has “received a number of complaints from mortgage brokerages regarding fraudulent activities by their mortgage agents, who were fraudulently accessing clients’ credit information without proper authorization.
“The mortgage brokering industry’s reliance on personal information to complete mortgage transactions makes it a target for individuals who wish to gain access to personal information for the purpose of engaging in criminal activities.” Brokers are required to obtain the borrower’s consent to check their credit history.
An official at one mortgage brokerage said in an interview that a broker signed up with their firm and proceeded to carry out hundreds of credit checks in the span of 24 hours.