By Mark Strassmann of CBS News

In Montgomery, Alabama, Ben and Lula Johnson could lose their house, CBS News Correspondent Mark Strassmann reports.

They thought they would always be able to live there and retire there. Instead their home is in foreclosure to what they say is a predatory lender; not a corner loan shark, but CitiFinancial, a subsidiary of Citigroup, America’s banking powerhouse.

“They just keep at you until they take all your assets and just strip you with nothing,” says Lula Johnson.

Consumer critics worry America’s biggest banks are also predatory lenders; that through subsidiaries, they target people in the so-called “sub-prime” market, with few credit options, and sock them with high interest rates, repeated financing (called “flipping”) and fees and credit insurance (called “packing”).

And it’s mostly legal.

“There’s an Old West atmosphere in sub-prime lending. These institutions tend to be very lightly regulated and it’s a buyer-beware experience,” says Allen Fishbein of the National Consumer Federation.

Out of the blue comes a check in the mail. Usually it’s for a couple of thousand dollars. When you cash the check, more offers keep coming for bigger amounts, and that’s how the debt cycle begins.

Mary Jackson refinanced her loan twice with a lender now owned by CitiFinancial.

And now, Jackson says, CitiFinancial owns the mortgage on her house.

“CitiFinancial, they have it now. And even with it being as big as it is, they’re still trying to get us to get more money,” she says.

Lawyer Tom Methvin‘s firm represents 11,000 people, who say predatory lenders ripped them off.

“They are specifically targeted,” Methvin says. “They are sucked into the web and they are robbed blind.”

In a statement, CitiFinancial said “significant changes” already are “raising standards.”

The company says it has also reduced fees and suspended thousands of foreclosures.

But for now, Lula Johnson lives in a house she no longer owns.

“We have spent over half our life right here. Right here,” she says. “So where are we going?”

And Mary Jackson? More loan offers just keep coming.

We're here to help!

We live by our creed of “helping those who need it most” and have helped thousands of clients get the justice they desperately needed and deserved. If you feel you have a case or just have questions please contact us for a free consultation. There is no risk and no fees unless we win for you.

Fields marked * may be required for submission.

The extra mile

I can't thank Beasley Allen enough for their excellent and hard work. At every point, they went the extra mile.