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Are the Bank of America leaks a smoking gun or a dud?

Early this morning, Internet group Anonymous, an online forum that has of late sought to position itself as a political force of hackers and whistleblowers, released a series of emails leaked by a former Bank of America employee. In a statement to Anonymous, the former loan processor alleged that there is a conspiracy within the banking institution of coordinating efforts to artificially inflate premiums on certain types of insurance. He said that he had emails to prove it; this morning’s leak was the first of those emails.

The alleged conspiracy involves “forced-place insurance,” by which banks offering home loans force uninsured homeowners to adopt home insurance policies as part of qualifying for a loan. The former employee behind the leak says that because banks both hold the loans and own the forced-place insurance companies, they’re free to charge astronomical premiums.

The emails, however, don’t seem to be quite the smoking gun they were advertised to be. They depict an approved request from an employee at Balboa Insurance, a subsidiary of Bank of America, to remove identification numbers from a series of insurance policy documents that were evidently sent to policyholders in error. The last email from anyone at Balboa questions the practice, as Jason Vaughn, a middle manager in one of Balboa’s Arizona’s offices, says that mismatched documents could be a “red flag” for auditors.

So, essentially the emails demonstrate a request to conceal an error from insurance policyholders. This certainly may be unethical, and may even be criminal fraud — though to what end the Balboa employees sought to do so is unclear, as is whether the practice was actually executed in light of the concerns brought up by Vaughn. But it also appears on the surface to have little connection with the larger claims made by the anonymous leaker, whose grievances range from vague (“They took everything from me.”) to oddly specific (for example, he claims that his employers spilled soil on his American flag when they were packing up his belongings after he was fired).

The person behind the leaks does say that there are more to come, so time will tell if there is substantive evidence for the allegations of fraud and conspiracy.

The Huffington Post has a succinct explanation of forced-place insurance, while the New York Times’ Dealbook has a clear detailing of all the allegations. Business Insider is critical of the hype over the emails and says that Bank of America’s explanation is likely the correct one. The blog Public Intelligence has the full text of the internal emails. A site started by Anonymous, bankofamericasuck.com, originally posted the emails as well as a statement from the leaker and correspondence between him and Anonymous moderators, but the site has been down most of today due to heavy traffic.

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