I was a robo-signer

By Tami Luhby, senior writer

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- It only took him a second to sign each foreclosure document.

That's how good Tam Doan got at his job in Bank of America's pre-sale foreclosure department in Southern California.

Befuddled by foreclosures?
1. What are "robo-signers?"
A) Computers that auto-approve loans.
B) Bank employees who sign loan documents without first reviewing their content.
C) Powerful cyborgs that pressure bank employees to sign off on financial documents that are known to be inaccurate.

Of course, he didn't have time to actually read the paperwork he was signing, he said, and in some cases, he didn't even know what documents he was putting his pen to.

"I had no idea what I was signing," said Doan. "Either you were in or you were out."

The recent revelation that loan servicers had employees sign thousands of documents a month without verifying the information has thrown the foreclosure system into chaos. Judges are increasingly questioning whether the servicers have their paperwork in order.

Several of the largest servicers, including Bank of America (BAC, Fortune 500) and JPMorgan Chase (JPM, Fortune 500), have halted foreclosures while they review their paperwork and processes. They want to ensure that the documents at the heart of the concerns -- proof of the note, or debt -- were signed properly.

Doan approached CNNMoney after the so-called robo-signing scandal came to light last month. After 18 months at Bank of America, he was terminated in early September for failing to follow policy, according to the servicer.

He said he was fired for how he calculated the value on homes destined for foreclosure sale.

If a property was missing a certification that the bank had done all it could to help the borrower, Doan said he would set the home's value at 100% of the debt owed. The bank's policy, however, was to set it at 85%, he said.

Doan said he hoped the higher price would make it harder for the bank to sell the house at auction, and thus prompt Bank of America to work things out with the borrower.

He said he was also cited for not reporting to his bosses when an appraisal showed the foreclosure would result in a loss of more than $200,000.

Bank of America said Doan was involved only in an isolated part of the foreclosure process, and that his actions do not represent either its employees or the company's overall operations. The servicer said it has many checks that catch errors, and if a mistake is found, it is corrected.

"We're not claiming perfection, nor can we," said Dan Frahm, a bank spokesman. "We are committed to getting our process right and giving our customers confidence they are being treated fairly."

Doan joined the servicer in late 2008, after spending 12 years in the securitization department at Countrywide Financial, which was acquired by Bank of America. His unit was responsible for getting delinquent loans ready for foreclosure sale.

He joined Countrywide as an intern, working an evening shift while studying marketing at California State University at Los Angeles. He loved the job and it paid well, so when a full-time position opened up, he jumped at it.

Unlike Countrywide, which he described as orderly, Doan said Bank of America's foreclosure operations were chaotic and stressful. There weren't enough people to do the job and they didn't receive the training needed to do it properly.

"With the volume coming in, we were getting inundated," he said, noting his workday often lasted from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. "We were signing documents right and left."

Of course, Doan could have spoken to his superiors about his concerns. But, he said he didn't report his discomfort because he wanted to be seen as a team player. He feared he'd forfeit any chance of a promotion -- and could even lose his job -- if he complained.

Bank of America, however, said it has numerous avenues employees can pursue if they witnessed any problems with the foreclosure process.

Different documents

Doan dealt with several types of documents and did varying levels of verification. He did not handle the paperwork involving the notes, he said.

The paperwork he robo-signed most often were the notices to delinquent borrowers that the servicer was proceeding to foreclosure. By signing that document, he was affirming that the bank had reviewed the loan and it didn't qualify for a modification. But, he said, the reality was he had no idea whether Bank of America had really tried to save the borrower's home.

"We had no knowledge of whether the foreclosure could proceed or couldn't, but regardless, we signed the documents to get these foreclosures out of the way," he said, noting that he assumed another department had checked that the review was done.

In his final weeks on the job, a notary routinely left him stacks of 20-page files, each one with a tab indicating where he needed to sign or initial. He had no idea what those documents were.

He spent so many hours writing his name that his signature morphed into a series of four circles overlapping one another. He said that he and his co-workers joked that they got so used to the rapid-fire signatures that they started signing personal paperwork that way.

Doan, however, said he didn't whip through every document placed before him.

One of his main tasks was checking the appraisal values and property conditions on homes going through the foreclosure process, as well as making sure there was no litigation that would block the sale. This he did do.

The servicer's attorneys would also send him court documents he needed to review and sign. He often checked the simpler items, such as the unpaid balance or loan maturity date. But he said he didn't have time to get into the more complex issues, such as checking the interest rate on certain adjustable rate mortgages.

Doan isn't sure what his next step will be. He currently runs a cake-decorating company with his fiancé, while he figures out a new career path. He would consider returning to the mortgage industry since it had been so good to him, allowing him to buy a house, live comfortably and provide for his young daughter.

While Bank of America has accused him of trying to take advantage of the current media frenzy surrounding robo-signing, he said he is speaking out because the servicer wrongfully terminated him.

Now that he's not in the thick of the foreclosure process, Doan said he has had time to reflect on what his actions meant. Each signature likely led to a borrower losing his or her home. While he got numb to that fact while he was on the job, he now feels guilty.

"I shudder to think how many foreclosure documents have my name on it," he said. To top of page

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