First International Title Outsmarts Vacant Property Scammers
At a time when our industry is under threat from ID fraud, First International Title’s swift and decisive action in uncovering and halting two vacant property scams is an important example of care and diligence.
Sharon Garrison and Jenny Rodgers, both of whom work in the Florida-based company’s Port St. Lucie office, were recently recognized and rewarded through Alliant National’s “crime watch” program. The program offers $1,000 to an agency employee who prevents a fraudulent transaction that would have been written on Alliant National.
Clear warning signs
Like many transactions involving ID fraud, the malicious activities encountered and thwarted by Garrison and Rodgers had clear warning signs.
The properties in question were two vacant lots located in Port St. Lucie, Florida. The first was originally set to close back in March of 2023, but according to Garrison, the title processor at First International in charge of this transaction, red flags quickly emerged when she compared the name on the property deed with that on the seller’s driver’s license and found that the first name was misspelled.
There were similar warning signs with the second property, which was being processed by Rodgers. She was immediately on her guard when her property’s listing agent informed her that the seller needed to close ASAP due to her son needing surgery. It was also highly suspect that the seller’s passport and driver’s license had the same photo.
Due diligence in action
After noticing these discrepancies, both processors began delving deeper into their respective transactions. Garrison attempted to call the seller and listing agent, but she received no answer even after leaving multiple voicemails.
Rodgers also conducted her due diligence. She first reached out to the title company who worked on the property previously, only to be informed they couldn’t close the file because they had suspected fraud.
Having taken these steps, each processor then sent out Property Owner Notification letters, which are intended to trigger a response from owners. Phone number and IP verifications were also performed, which cast further suspicion. Garrison’s seller, for example, showed an IP address located in Miami, despite having claimed to live in New Milford, New Jersey. Rodgers’ IP verification revealed a similar discrepancy, with an IP address for Miami turning up when the seller claimed to be in New York.
Other actions included a rigorous comparison of handwriting via mortgage signatures and other forms of identification, assessing passport photos and conducting passport number searches. Rodgers also called the fraudster directly. She asked them to provide their date of birth so she could compare it to her records. Unsurprisingly, the fraudster provided incorrect data, and when Rodgers asked them to repeat it, they hung up.
A responsibility not taken lightly
The experiences of Garrison and Rodgers illustrate several things about the title insurance and real estates fields, specifically the importance of fraud prevention efforts.
Stopping fraud, according to Rodgers, is key to obtaining “cost savings for all parties.” But like any worthwhile goal, their respective odysseys show that beating back fraudsters requires a great deal of time and effort, not to mention passion and acute attention to detail. What’s more, it necessitates title offices having strong anti-fraud processes in place, which allows agents to objectively verify important information and stop scam transactions from going forward.
“First International Title,” said Rodgers, “has implemented Property Owners Notification letters, which we mail or FedEx to the owner based on the address on the property tax bill. This letter is a fraud prevention tool. It indicates that we have received a real estate transaction request on the property and asks the owner to call us immediately to verify this transaction is correct and if we should proceed with the sale.”
Of course, availing yourself of these resources and putting in the necessary effort becomes much easier when there is an emotional payoff at the end of the journey. As Garrison explained, while she “felt bad for the other party that was really excited about the purchase,” it was gratifying to help them not “lose the property and money.” Rodgers echoed these sentiments: “I felt a great sense of satisfaction knowing that I was able to help the person going through this awful event. She was very grateful we were able to stop these crooks.”
Alliant National’s essential role
As a title underwriter, Alliant National seeks opportunities to support and incentivize its agents’ anti-fraud efforts. Garrison said working with Alliant National teaches those in the industry “what to look for and saves all involved from experiencing loss in terms of money and property.”
By forging strong partnerships, Alliant National and its agents can push back on real estate fraud. And when that happens, everyone wins. Learn more about Alliant National’s crime watch program