STATE GOES AFTER MORTGAGE COMPANIES: State prosecutors shut down seven mortgage companies Tuesday in a growing campaign against predatory lenders suspected of tricking thousands of struggling homeowners into mortgage refinancing deals that led many to lose their homes. Attorney General Jerry Brown said his office had filed a lawsuit seeking penalties and restitution of more than $20 million in the bait-and-switch scam by the companies, including Lifetime Financial, led by 25-year-old real estate agent Eric Pony, his mother and sister. California has been ground zero for many of the potentially risky adjustable-rate mortgages that U.S. borrowers took on in recent years. As a result, the state had the second-highest foreclosure rate in the nation last month, with one in every 242 households receiving a foreclosure-related notice. A total of 53,629 properties were on the foreclosure track, the most of any state. The illegal sales practices outlined in the lawsuit included psychological pressure, forgery and lies, Brown said. In the coming weeks, Brown said, he intends to bring additional legal action, civil and criminal, against other mortgage lenders and foreclosure consultants who are taking advantage of homeowners across California. The suspects are accused of forging signatures when consumers would not sign paperwork, making false promises about favorable loan conditions and ignoring requests to cancel loans within the three-day window provided by the federal Truth in Lending Act.
BIG PAYOFF IF HE LOSES HIS SMELL: His schnoz is not to be sniffed at. A Lloyd's of London syndicate said Tuesday it is insuring the nose of winemaker Ilja Gort for $8 million. The Dutch winemaker and taster took out the policy after hearing about a man who lost his sense of smell in a car accident. "I thought it must be a horror to lose your smell," Gort said. "It would mean that you cannot taste wine anymore. Tasting wine is something you do with your nose, not your mouth." Gort, 47, said his nose is essential for him to produce top quality wines at his Chateau de la Garde vineyard in the Bordeaux region of France. The custom policy covers Gort for the loss of his nose or his sense of smell and has some conditions for protecting his nose. Among other things, he is barred from riding a motorcycle or working as a knife thrower's assistant or fire-breather. And he can't be a boxer. Jonathan Thomas, the lead underwriter, also took note of Gort's long, curly beard in drafting the policy. A clause requires that the winemaker use only experienced barbers who will keep their razors steady near his nose.
FACEBOOK INSTITUTING PRIVACY CHECKS: Facebook Inc. is tweaking the privacy settings on its popular online hangout to let users exert greater control over which of their friends are allowed to see personal details they post. The Palo Alto-based company said it would add features Tuesday night that would give its 67 million active users the option of selecting individual users who can or can't access certain parts of their pages. For example, someone who uploads a racy batch of photos or lists his cell phone number or personal e-mail address on his Facebook page can bar some people on a list of friends from seeing any of that information. Previously, the only way to block people from seeing specific content was to deny their friend requests or to create a limited profile. The second solution had the downside of blocking entire groups of people from a wide swath of content. Facebook announced the features Tuesday as it tries to combat criticism that it doesn't give users enough control over what posted information their friends see. The company also is stepping up efforts to portray itself as privacy-conscious after many users rebelled over a marketing tool called "Beacon" that tracked purchases Facebook members made on other Web sites and sent alerts to their Facebook friends about the transactions.
BEE NEWS SERVICES
48: Percentage of U.S. employers who say stress, caused by "working long hours/doing more with less," is affecting business performance, according to Watson Wyatt's 2007/2008 Staying@Work Report.
32: Percentage of employers who believe stress caused by work/
life balance issues adversely affects business performance.
29: Percentage of employers who believe stress caused by widespread use of technologies that expand availability, such as cell phones and personal digital assistants, is greatly affecting business performance.
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