SAN DIEGO (CNS) - Several California district attorneys Tuesday announced a $873,588 settlement with a Florida-based title insurance company alleged to have used a real estate software system that facilitated illegal secret payments to brokers for business referrals to title insurers and other providers.
The San Diego County District Attorney's Office will receive $302,862 from the settlement with Fidelity National Financial Inc. San Diego County was co-counsel with the district attorneys of Ventura and Los Angeles counties in the civil consumer protection lawsuit.
The civil complaint was filed in Ventura Superior Court under California's Unfair Competition Law.
"Consumers deserve the benefits of competition when they buy homes and choose service providers and these secret payments in exchange for referrals violated expectation," San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis said. "We bring enforcement actions like this to ensure that free and fair competition -- and not an undisclosed referral payment -- determines who provides each real estate settlement service."
Fidelity National developed "Transaction Point" software and its web-based referral system in 2002 to assist brokers in preparing transaction documents and ordering related real estate settlement services, such as escrow, title insurance and natural-hazard disclosure services, officials said.
However, the district attorneys allege that Transaction Point also was used by the brokers to charge and collect unlawful fees of $25 or more from providers of those services, including from service providers affiliated with Fidelity National, which made the payments on their behalf. Fidelity National stopped operating the Transaction Point system in late 2009 when the system was questioned by authorities.
Under the terms of settlement -- which was entered without admission of liability -- Fidelity National is prohibited from paying any real estate broker that places an order with the company for title insurance or other goods or services using Transaction Point or any other similar order placement system, or paying a fee to any real estate broker for the use of any similar computerized system.