Fischer: Spot the fraud: Constant vigilance required in crime-ridden world
A couple of nights ago, as I was pulling into my driveway after work, I noticed a package on my doorstep. I made a mental note to make my way to the front door at some point to grab it. However, after closing the garage, coming in and taking off my shoes, letting the dog out, letting the dog in, answering a phone call, checking on a listing and responding to an offer, my mental note took flight. I went to bed without taking the package off the front doorstep. The next morning, as I was driving away, I noticed it again. I sent a text to my husband to grab it before leaving for work. He had already left. Last night, I returned home to find the package was still there. This time, I went straight to the front door and brought it in.
I was lucky, especially at this time of year, to have a package sit on my doorstep for days without being stolen. ‘Tis the season for porch pirates. They are coming out in droves.
Fortunately, with the advent of Ring doorbells, security cameras and GPS trackers, these thieves are more easily detected and can be held accountable for their crimes. Unfortunately, not all crimes are as easy to identify. Mortgage fraud, for example, is one of these crimes that is more difficult to detect, and sadly, although more difficult to perpetrate than it used to be, is still prevalent.
Frankly, whether I lack the ambition or the brains, I’ve always thought it easier to make my living by legal means. Plus, I must be able to sleep at night, or at least, if I’m not sleeping, not have it be my conscience that is keeping me awake. At the same time, however, I also must be sure that I can recognize fraud when I see it; as a result, as ugly as it is, I need to know what it looks like.
My first experience with attempted loan fraud happened a few years ago. I had been given a referral from a past client to help a family member who was moving here from out of state. I contacted them and put them in touch with a trusted lender. The lender had them fill out an online application and set up an appointment to meet with them in person to gather their paperwork when they arrived here to begin looking.
It didn’t take long before we found a home and got an offer accepted. They met with the lender and turned in their required paperwork. In this case, one tiny white lie began to spin out of control. There was Wite-Out — that’s right, the white-colored office product correction fluid — on this guy’s W-2s. He actually wrote in the income amount on his W-2, which did not happen to correspond with what he actually made. When the call was made to verify, his previous boss (which was also news to us, since he stated that he was still employed there) stated that he had been asked to lie for this employee too many times, and he wasn’t going to do it. Amen, brother! My client, who was no longer my client, was outraged at all of us for insisting on doing things legally. I had no problem cutting ties with this dude.
Real estate fraud can be perpetrated by an individual, a group or a company. Anytime someone takes money from a lending institution, collateralized by real estate, using inaccurate or false information, that is considered real estate fraud.
A perpetrator can commit fraud much easier if there are no licensed real estate agents or seasoned and reputable escrow officers involved as well. Let’s just say, hypothetically, that a seller has a recently recorded easement violation or pending litigation attached to their property and has not disclosed this to the agent or the buyer. This violation must be resolved before it is sold. Once the agent finds out and informs the seller, they may choose to go with a different agent, who will either agree not to disclose it as well or may not have the experience necessary to know it exists. If it is sold without being resolved (assuming the buyer was cash with either no representation or poor representation), the recorded violation will still be attached to the property and the new owner may then be sued. Unfortunately, it happens. I have seen it with my own contact-lensed eyes.
As for your own eyes, keep them open. Don’t let your packages sit on your proverbial doorstep. They can take my toilet paper, but they aren’t taking anything else. A trusted Realtor can be your security tracker in this process, and it is worth the investment.
Jen Fischer is an associate broker and Realtor. She can be reached at 801-645-2134 or firstname.lastname@example.org.