How Three Ordinary Americans Uncovered Wall Street’s Great Foreclosure Fraud

The dramatic true story of how a nurse, a car dealership worker, and a forensic expert took on the nation’s largest banks—and then shook them to their core

“It had been a long day. Lynn just wanted to get back to West Palm Beach and relax. Just before her flight took off, she reached forward to get the in-flight magazine. The stranger sitting next to her leaned forward and said, ‘You know what happens to people who sue banks?’

‘What?’

‘They end up dead.’”

—from Chain of Title

Winner of the Ida and Studs Terkel Prize

In the depths of the Great Recession, a cancer nurse, a car dealership worker, and an insurance fraud specialist helped uncover the largest consumer crime in American history—a scandal that implicated dozens of major executives on Wall Street. They called it foreclosure fraud: millions of families were kicked out of their homes based on false evidence by mortgage companies that had no legal right to foreclose.

Lisa Epstein, Michael Redman, and Lynn Szymoniak did not work in government or law enforcement. They had no history of anticorporate activism. Instead they were all foreclosure victims, and while struggling with their shame and isolation they committed a revolutionary act: closely reading their mortgage documents, discovering the deceit behind them, and building a movement to expose it.

Fiscal Times columnist David Dayen recounts how these ordinary Floridians challenged the most powerful institutions in America armed only with the truth—and for a brief moment brought the corrupt financial industry to its knees.

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Praise

“David Dayen first wrote about foreclosures as a scruffy blogger and consistently beat almost every established financial reporter to the story. Now he has written the best history of that shameful period. The mortgage industry spent untold millions to spread the story they created from whole cloth after the crisis hit: families who lost their homes were mostly undeserving spendthrifts trying to shirk just debts. Chain of Title tells the real story and the real story should offend the sense of justice of every American with a conscience.”

—Former congressman Brad Miller (D-NC), original co-author of the section of the Dodd-Frank Act that created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
“Gripping. . . . The homeowners’ stories are emotional roller coasters, which Dayen meticulously reports.”

The New York Times Book Review
“This is the story, one of its characters tells us, of an unlikely ‘crime scene’: the real estate courts of Florida, where professional fraudsters greased the skids to kick people out of their houses in order to prop up Wall Street’s profits, while judges looked the other way. And, it is the story of a prairie fire—began by ordinary Americans who brilliantly and courageously fought back when our leaders refused to do so. All in all, it is one of the best books about the law and American life that I ever have read.”

—Rick Perlstein, author of Nixonland and The Invisible Bridge
Chain of Title is a sweeping work of investigative journalism that traces the arc of a criminally underreported story in America, the collapse of the rule of law in the home mortgage industry. By following three victims of illegal foreclosure practices, Dayen humanizes and brilliantly illuminates a vast scam unseen by the public because it’s been indecipherable to everyone but a few industrious housing lawyers—as he shows, even judges don’t understand it. The nightmare scavenger-hunt pursued by homeowners like Lisa Epstein leads to a horror-ending: behind the dream of home ownership lies a lawless jungle, owned and operated by banks, where there are no rules to protect families and their property.”

—Matt Taibbi, author of The Divide
“An inspiring, well-rendered, deeply reported, and often infuriating account.”

Kirkus Reviews
“Dayen elevates a muckraking exposé of fraudulent foreclosures to Hitchcockian levels of suspense. . . . Meticulously researched, enthralling, and educational, this addition to the literature of the Great Recession calls out for its own big-screen adaptation.”

Publishers Weekly
“In the wake of the devastating 2008 financial crisis, David Dayen has become one of the nation’s most knowledgeable, astute and important voices in identifying the culprits and documenting the efforts to protect them. His new book is one of the most important yet written on the causes of that crisis, the abject failures of the political class to punish the wrongdoers, and the dangerous refusal on the part of the nation’s elite to safeguard against future and even worse meltdowns.”

—Glenn Greenwald

News and Reviews

Dissent Magazine

Mike Konczal reviews Chain of Title in Dissent Magazine.

The Philadelphia Inquirer

Jake Blumgart reviews Chain of Title in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Week

The Week calls Chain of Title “excellent and absolutely infuriating”

The New York Times

The New York Times reviews Chain of Title.

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