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PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. -- About the only thing that interrupts Lynn Szymoniak from researching mortgage fraud is the phone. A few days ago, her lawyer was on the other end.
The Palm Beach Gardens mother of three, had won an $18 million settlement from mortgage lenders.
"I actually said a prayer of Thanksgiving first," she said.
Szymoniak got her foreclosure papers in 2008 after her mortgage payment went up.
"I went to the county courthouse to look up the documents. I found there was a difference in the documents that were on file and the ones that were served," said Szymoniak.
Szymoniak admits she became obsessed. She spent up to 90 hours a week compiling paperwork for every mortgage in Palm Beach County filed by a now-defunct company that processed her foreclosure.
In the process, she discovered robo-signing.
"There were at least 12 different versions of the Linda Green signature," said Szymoniak.
She says lenders assigned low-level employees to sign an easy-to-spell name on a never-ending stream of foreclosure documents. Szymoniak said that paperwork was used to dupe the federal government into paying the banks their insurance money.
It also forced many people out of their homes before they could contest their claim. She sued the banks for fraud.
"They would submit these documents to HUD in order to get their payments back faster from HUD," said Szymoniak.
Bankrate.com mortgage reporter Polyana da Costa said it's likely many of the homes attached to the phony paperwork would have been foreclosed on anyway. But she said the robo-signing was a symptom of abuse.
"When you're doing foreclosures en masse, you think you can get away with this stuff. And they did, for a while," said da Costa.
Szymoniak is still fighting her foreclosure, but plans to use part of the settlement to buy a new home. She also promises to donate a portion to charity.
"My dad was a Marine," said Szymoniak. "I tried to make a commitment early on, that I would fight as hard for my country as my father did."
In just a few weeks, Szymoniak plans to release a list of all the homeowners in Palm Beach County who have a mortgage that was processed by the now-defunct company that she suspects of forging her own foreclosure documents.
She says every homeowner deserves to know whether their chain of title is compromised.
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