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4 Title Companies Settle Suit Alleging Overcharges

October 09, 2002|From Bloomberg News

Fidelity National Financial Inc. and three other title companies agreed to a $50-million settlement in a suit claiming they charged hidden fees during escrow and title services, California officials said Tuesday.

The companies will pay more than $40 million in refunds and settlements to customers who purchased, sold or refinanced homes between May 19, 1995, and Tuesday.

The companies also will pay more than $6.8 million in penalties as well as additional fees associated with the settlement. California's attorney general and San Francisco officials said that the companies, among other things, billed consumers for services such as overnight mail, courier and notary fees without disclosing the markup charge.

The companies didn't admit wrongdoing as part of the settlement. "Consumers usually expect to pay a lot of fees in the process" of purchasing or refinancing a home, Terrence Hallinan, San Francisco's district attorney, said in a statement. "But they don't expect to be misled into paying more than they should."

A call to the general counsel at Irvine-based Fidelity National, the largest U.S. insurer of property titles, wasn't returned.

In 2000, the company purchased Chicago Title, which also is part of the settlement. First American Corp. in Santa Ana, the nation's second-largest title insurer, also didn't return a call.

A call to LandAmerica Financial Group Inc. in Richmond, Va., went through to a recorded message. LandAmerica owns Commonwealth Land Title Insurance Co. and Lawyers Title Insurance Corp., which are both defendants in the suit.

A call to Houston-based Stewart Information Services Corp., owner of Stewart Title, went through to voicemail.

The settlement was approved by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Loren E. McMaster.

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