Posts Tagged ‘fraud’

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Fraud & Forgery Amidst Claims

Be mindful of the potential hazards with an increasingly online-only landscape

As news continues to break, it becomes more and more apparent that the COVID-19 pandemic will have a lasting effect on our industry. While it’s critical that we learn to adapt amidst the crisis, it’s also imperative that we be mindful of the potential hazards that can come with shifting into an increasingly online-only landscape. Here are some of the things to watch out for as we navigate through this difficult time.

Increase in Wire Fraud and Phishing

There is no way to avoid electronic communications throughout this pandemic. Be vigilant against phishing emails, incorrect email addresses, slightly off signature blocks and dated lingo, and emails coming in at odd hours (implying the fraudster may be abroad). Always call a verified telephone number to confirm changes to wire instructions. Click on this link for more information on what to watch out for. 

TIP: Have a plan in place – meet with your IT department, and talk to your insurance agent to see how you can protect yourself against these scams.

Fraud & Forgery

Unfortunately, tumultuous times often only embolden fraudsters further. That’s why it’s important now, more than ever, to treat remote closings with the same care and caution as mail-away closings. Here are some red flags common to fraud and forgery claims: (1) the property is a part of a “flip” transaction; (2) the property is vacant land; (3) the deed to the seller is a recently recorded quit claim deed. Click on this link for more red flags.

Powers of Attorney

Powers of Attorney (POA) are ripe for fraud. Carefully examine the powers that are granted in any POA, and confirm that the POA was given freely and purposefully for the intent for which it will be used. Require a fresh POA if the POA presented is more than six months old. If you have reason to question the capacity of the principal, or have questions about the validity of the POA, contact your local Alliant National underwriter for approval before proceeding.

TIP: If your state allows the use of remote online notarization (RON) technology and the county recorder will accept electronically signed instruments for recording, recommend using RON so the principal can sign the required documents instead of appointing an attorney-in-fact. 

Undue Influence and Duress on the Elderly

With COVID-19 threatening the elderly more than any other demographic, we have a responsibility to ensure we’re mindful of any potential undue influence or duress from unscrupulous heirs or caregivers. If the person holding title is elderly or is sick, be sure to dig in further before agreeing to conduct the closing. 

Hard Money Lenders

Hard money lenders aren’t regulated by state or federal law. Generally, hard money lenders do not collect loan applications or otherwise vet their borrowers. This practice creates a higher potential for fraud by third parties posing as legitimate borrowers. If something feels off, it probably is. For more information on what to look for with these transactions, click on this link.

Note: Seller-financed purchased money loans are not considered hard money lenders.

Crime Watch Program We take the safety of our clientele very seriously. Because of that, Alliant National offers a $1000 reward to any agent who helps identify and prevent a forgery or scam. Be sure to contact the hotline to report anything that may feel like fraudulent activity. To submit a claim for a reward, click here:  https://alliantnational.com/title-claims/crime-watch-program/.

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6 tips for avoiding online scams amid COVID-19

Being mindful, being aware and noting odd happenings in our digital lives can help stop these fraudulent maneuvers.

Every day, as consumers and as business people, we are confronted with obvious and often not-so-obvious attempts to steal our information, our identity and our money. Scammers have been particularly busy in recent weeks as businesses and individuals shift their activities online in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

We are not powerless against these criminals. Being mindful, being aware and noting odd happenings in our digital lives can help stop these fraudulent maneuvers.

Here are six tips for staying safe.

1) Online purchases should be made with PayPal or with a credit card. The reason is that debit cards take the money immediately. If fraud is in progress, the delay of a credit card transaction affords the card holder a better opportunity to catch the fraud and get it corrected.

2) If it looks odd, it likely is. Sometimes, something doesn’t look or feel right. While many shoppers stick to large, legitimate shopping sites like Amazon or Barnes & Noble, shoppers also seek deals. Unfamiliar web sites or mom-and-pop sites have become adept at mimicking their supersized competitors.

See an odd “o” in Amazon that looks like a zero? Don’t buy from it. Does the eBay purchase you’re about to make have a legitimate looking url? Double check it. Make sure it’s not a fake or altered web site; pop around online and be sure the purchase comes from the authentic retailer.

3) Go slowly when responding to or clicking through eNewsletters. A sophisticated and effective way scammers can get buyers’ money is by building authentic looking eNewsletters that provide click-thrus for purchasing or for personal information confirmation. One real-life scenario involved a well-known university credit union that sends out eNewsletters regularly.

One day, the eNewsletter showed up in members’ inboxes. The eNewsletter asked the recipient to confirm their name, social security number, address and phone. When the recipient complied and clicked, “done,” all that information went to a database controlled by scammers. The bogus eNews was so well designed, it was virtually impossible to know it was fake.

4) Create new passwords and do it often. Create different passwords for different web sites and make a habit of changing them regularly. Make the passwords sophisticated. If eight or more characters are required for the password, you might consider taking the extra time to make a 16-character password that makes use of supported combinations and special characters (i.e, #,S,<, numbers and letters). There are apps that help keep passwords organized and stored. Use one.

5) Enable fraud protection. The good news is that when fraud is detected, reputable companies help make it right. The credit union fraud caused the card owner to incur over $500 in unauthorized charges. The card holder had all the money put back into her account. Enable fraud protection on all credit cards. Most banks that hold credit cards will work with the cardholder to identify the fraud and reimburse the charges. Fraud protection makes the correction easier to catch and quicker to remedy.

6) Beware of phone scams. Fraudsters are becoming more sophisticated every day in order to get you to hand over your personal information over the phone. This is true not only with voice calls, but with text messages, and smartphone apps as well. 

Generally speaking, if you get a request for personal information via your phone and you did not initiate the request, chances are the request is fraudulent. 

This is especially true for scam calls purportedly coming from the IRS. The IRS will always notify you by mail first if there are any issues. Then and only then will they communicate using other means to resolve the issue in question, and that is usually only when you initiate the communication with them in response to a letter you may have received.

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inquire before you wire

Amy Gregory has a passion to protect, and when a customer at Paramount Title was defrauded of $130,000, Amy pulled out all the stops to track down the funds and then went above and beyond to ensure no customer of hers would ever fall victim to wire fraud again.

Our story begins with an innocuous email delivered to our homebyer on June 18, which appeared to come from the lender’s office. The email informed our buyer that a representative from Paramount Title would call her to confirm receipt of the funds to close.

Someone called the buyer, but it wasn’t us. A fraudster named “Jimmy” on the other end of the line confirmed wire instructions for a specific bank account, with the account name referencing Paramount Title, and instructed our buyer to send funds in the amount of $130,000.

Our buyer wired the funds.

The following day our buyer checked her account and saw the wire had been returned to her account. She replied to the email thread with the fraudster from the previous day asking if she knew what happened and why the funds were returned.

The fraudster told her the company’s escrow account was under its annual tax audit and that is why her funds were returned. Then he gave our buyer new wiring instructions for another bank account. Our buyer called “Jimmy,” who confirmed the new writing instructions were correct.

Our buyer wired the funds again.

On June 20, our buyer received another email from the fraudster stating there was an issue with the wire. The fraudster asked our buyer to call her bank and request a hold be lifted off the wire. Tragically, our buyer called her bank and obtained the federal reference number for the wire.

The next day a representative from the receiving bank called to say they flagged her wire transfer and they were not going to release the funds yet because it looked suspicious.

That’s when our buyer decided to look up the title company. She then called us, the real Paramount Title, and shared her story. Our office confirmed we don’t employ anybody by the name of “Jimmy” – and this was most definitely a case of wire fraud.

This is where Amy swoops into the picture.

Amy was quick to discuss all options for our buyer to report the crime, including offering to report the issue on her behalf. Amy contacted our US Secret Service agent (YES, we actually have a US Secret Service agent in our rolodex to help us in these “special” circumstances), finally reaching him at 10 o’clock at night to discuss the details of the file.

Amy wanted to see if the agent could provide any assistance on what our buyer could do to get her money back. She conferenced in our buyer, so she could speak directly with the agent. The agent then offered to call the “fraudsters” bank and see how they could help. 

On June 22, thanks to Amy’s tireless efforts driven by a passion to protect, the full amount of the wire was returned to our buyer. Our buyer closed on her home two weeks later.

“I spoke with the client shortly after the ordeal was over, and she expressed to me how good it felt that someone had her back through the process,” said Andrea Somers, Compliance Officer for the Florida Agency Network. “Amy truly goes above and beyond in everything that she does.”

But our story doesn’t end there, because Amy went above and beyond to ensure no customer of hers would ever fall victim to wire fraud again.

First, she implemented the website “www.inquirebeforeyouwire.com,” a message we now we blast everywhere we can. When we receive a new contract, our customer is informed of this very real threat. When a customer receives an email from us, they see the Inquire Before You Wire image. It doesn’t matter how small, or big, the transaction is.

She also implemented additional processes where phone calls are made to the contacts on each file, to discuss wire fraud, the current fraud trends being seen in our industry and to lay out exactly how the client will receive wire instructions. 

What’s more, Amy decided to go one step further by achieving the Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist (CAMS) certification. This achievement demonstrates Amy’s commitment and leadership in protecting our clients and our industry. Amy feels we have a duty to protect and serve the clients. 

Amy’s passion to protect pushes our team to uphold the same standard of care, to protect and try to prevent tragic situations involving wire fraud from occurring on our watch again. 

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If Something Doesn’t Smell Right, It’s Probably Not

It may seem like “Title Insurance 101” – but small mistakes can be signs of fraud or misuse of funds or outright intentional undoing of a clear road to closing on a real estate deal.

It may seem like “Title Insurance 101” – but small mistakes can be signs of fraud or misuse of funds or outright intentional undoing of a clear road to closing on a real estate deal.

Not everyone knows everything all of the time; a thousand items have to fall into place and “add up” in order to make the process smooth and completely unencumbered.

Download Our Fraud Detection Guide for Agents

A power of attorney showing up in the middle of a transaction (or at the end) should be scrutinized. So should cashier’s checks drawn from geographical areas that don’t coincide with the seller’s, buyer’s or property’s locale.

Take a look at the potential red flags below; being aware is half the battle.

Preliminary Title Report/Title Search

Red flags” involving the preliminary title report and title search may include:

  • Ordered by, prepared for, or mailed to a party other than the lender.
  • Property seller is not in title (possible purchase disguised as a refinance or improper property flip).
  • Seller owned property for a short time with a cash-out on the sale.
  • Notice of default is recorded (possible cash-out purchase with a straw buyer or foreclosure rescue).
  • Report indicates delinquent property taxes.
  • Report indicates modification agreement on existing loan(s).
  • Title documents show the borrower or Seller on a purchase is not the owner of record.
    • For a purchase transaction, the seller should be the owner of record.
    • For a refinance transaction, the borrower on the loan application should match the owner of record on the title documents.

Escrow/Closing Instructions

“Red flags” involving escrow and closing instructions may include:

  • “Fill in the blank” or generic escrow instructions.
  • Change of sales prices to “fit” the appraisal.
  • Odd amounts paid as a deposit/down payment.
  • Significant or unusual buyer credits or fees.
  • Unusual amendments to the original transaction.
  • Seller on Closing Disclosure different than seller on preliminary title report.
  • Evidence of “white-outs” or alterations without initials.
  • Payoffs to third parties whose lien was not listed on the preliminary title report.
  • Reference to another escrow.
  • Down payment is paid into escrow upon opening.
  • Cash is paid outside of escrow to property seller.
  • Sale is “subject to” property seller acquiring title.
  • Entity acting as the property seller is controlled by, affiliated with, or related to the applicant or another party to the transaction.
  • Buyer is required to use a specific broker/lender.
  • Sale of subject property is not subject to inspection.
  • Power of attorney used with no explanation.
  • Power of attorney is not properly documented/recorded.

Funds to Close

“Red flags” involving funds to close may include:

  • Remitter on cashier’s check or source of the wire is not the borrower.
  • Cashier’s check issued from a bank that is inconsistent with the depository information on application.
  • Cashier’s check issued from a bank branch that is out of the buyer’s geographic area.
  • Dollar amount is incorrectly encoded on check.
  • Sources of funds are questionable

Closing Disclosure/Settlement Statement

“Red flags” involving the closing disclosure or settlement statement may include:

  • Names and addresses of property seller and buyer vary from other loan documentation.
  • Seller’s mailing address is the same as another party to the transaction.
  • Excessive real estate agent commissions paid.
  • Real estate commission paid, but no realtors listed on the purchase contract.
  • Sales price differs from sales contract.
  • Reference is made to undisclosed secondary financing or double escrow.
  • Rent prorated on owner-occupied transactions.
  • Zero amount due to/from buyer.
  • Closing Disclosure or escrow instructions contain unusual credits, disbursements, related parties, delinquent loans paid off, or multiple mortgages paid off.
  • Payoffs for items not consistent with liens listed on title commitment.
  • Excessive seller paid marketing, administrative, assignment or trust fees.
  • Payouts to unknown parties.
  • Terms of the closed mortgage differ from the terms approved by the underwriter.
  • Date of settlement is delayed without explanation.

Download Our Fraud Detection Guide for Agents

Avoiding Fraud pitfalls

Wire Fraud, Appraisals & Contracts (Oh, My!)

No one wants to learn that fraud or misuse of funds or fraudulent transfers happened once a closing is complete, yet those events can be part of real estate closing worlds.

Appraisals can also prove to be undependable, as parties involved can have less-than-legitimate agendas.

Download Our Fraud Detection Guide for Agents

Who wants to learn of a crooked contract – that’s already been signed, notarized and filed?

No one. Below, we take a look at what agents can do regarding all of the above and how to avoid pitfalls before they happen.

What Agents Should Do If Wire Fraud is Suspected

After the Exchange of Funds (regardless of the dollar amount of the loss)

  • Contact your bank.
    • Speak with someone who has authority to reverse or “recall” the wire. This contact may be in your bank’s fraud department. Note: A best practice is to identify this contact and establish a relationship with him or her before a wire fraud incident occurs. 
    • Make sure the bank understands you have been the victim of a Business Email Compromise (BEC) scheme.
    • Request a Wire Recall or SWIFT Recall Message.
    • Ask your bank to fully cooperate with law enforcement.
  • Contact your local FBI office (https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices). The FBI has a number of protocols aimed at freezing and retrieving funds. They will activate appropriate protocols based upon the circumstances of the loss. The American Land Title Association has more information on the FBI’s protocol for reversing fraudulent international wires.
  • Complete and submit a Complaint Referral Form to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). Be prepared to provide all details related to the transaction including date, amount, the name of your bank and the beneficiary bank, account numbers, contact information, etc.
  • Contact the fraud department at the beneficiary bank to notify them about the wire-recall request due to the fraud. Provide details and request that the account be frozen.
  • Contact local law enforcement (https://www.policeone.com/law-enforcement-directory/)
  • Contact your Secret Service field office (https://www.secretservice.gov/contact/field-offices/)
  • Contact the Alliant National Claims Department by first calling the Claims Manager at (303) 682-9800, ext. 425, and then follow up by emailing applicable information to Claims@alliantnational.com.

When the Money Goes Out, Minutes Count

The 48-hour period following a fraudulent wire transfer is critical; immediately contacting your bank, the local FBI office and submitting a complaint to IC3 as described above will increase your chances of recovering the funds. 

Special Handling of International Wires

Since international wire fraud has a very low chance of recovery or reversal of the wire, special precautions are advisable, such as requiring “in-person authorization” from only those authorized signers on an out-going international wire, and having such precautionary requirements agreed upon with your bank.

Appraisals

Appraisals and appraisal reports may contain “red flags” indicating potential fraud. “Red flags” may include, but are not limited to:

  • Owner of record listed is inconsistent with other information disclosed in the loan file.
  • Occupant is identified as a tenant on an owner-occupied refinance application.
  • Owner-occupied refinance transaction, but the property is vacant.
  • Occupant of subject property is listed as “unknown.”
  • Appraiser uses public record, exterior inspections, or property seller/builder as sole data sources.
  • Illegal zoning is checked on first page of the appraisal.
  • “Physical deficiencies or adverse conditions that affect the livability, soundness, or structural integrity box” is checked “Yes” on the first page of the appraisal.
  • Subject property has increased in value in a stable or declining market.
  • Land value is atypically high for the area.
  • Excessive adjustments in urban or suburban area where marketing time is under six months.
  • Timeframe between sales does not allow enough time for reported renovations made to property.
  • Loan file contains a note with a predetermined value.
  • Ineligible Condition (C5, C6) or Quality (Q6) ratings.
  • Blank spaces on the form (borrower, client, occupant, etc.).
  • Missing photos or maps.
  • Photos do not match description of property.
  • House number in photo does not match property address.
  • Photos do not match the floor plan sketch (i.e. location of garage, fireplace, etc.).
  • Photos of subject property taken from odd angles or with no depth of field, or have been cropped or otherwise altered.
  • Photos reveal items not disclosed in appraisal (e.g., commercial property next door, railroad tracks, another structure on premises, etc.).
  • Weather conditions in photo of property are not appropriate for the date of the appraisal (i.e., July photo shows snow on the ground for a property in Illinois).
  • “For rent” or “for sale” sign in photo of subject property on owner-occupant refinance application.
  • Most recent sale(s) and/or listing information on subject property and/or comparable properties are missing.
  • Use of unverified comparable sales (i.e., not verified through traditional data sources such as MLS, sales office, Closing Disclosure, real estate agent, etc.).
  • Use of inappropriate comparable properties (e.g., that are not similar to the subject property when comparable properties are present).
  • Excessive distance between comparable properties and subject property.
  • All comparable properties are from different town(s) than the subject property.
  • Lack of bracketing with comparable sales used (e.g., all sales are significantly larger in living area than the subject).
  • Appraisal is ordered and/or prepared prior to date of sales contract or loan application.

Appraiser is located outside of the county in which the property is located.

Sales Contracts

Sales contract “Red flags” indicating potential fraud may include, but are not limited to:

  • Multiple sales contracts exist.
  • Sales contract is dated after the appraisal date.
  • Sales contract is subject to an existing lease on an owner-occupied transaction.
  • Sales contract includes personal property or prohibited sales concessions.
  • Sales price is significantly above or below market value.
  • Purchase contract addenda adjusts the sales price.
  • Applicant is not shown as purchaser.
  • No real estate professional involved.
  • Real estate agent(s) used, but not paid a fee; or no real estate agent(s) involved at all.
  • Seller is a corporation or LLC and the subject property is not new construction.
  • Seller is an affiliated real estate agent, trust, relative or employer.
  • The parties to the transaction are related by family or commercial enterprise.
  • The contract is not dated.
  • Names are deleted from or added to the purchase contract.
  • The contract is an “option contract.”
  • The contract was assigned or is assignable.
  • Earnest-money deposit is an unusually high amount, consists of the entire down payment, or is an odd amount.
  • Contract has a very short inspection period and upon satisfactory inspection, the buyer is to notify the settlement agent who is then supposed to transfer a large portion or all of the deposit to the seller (scam is that 10 business days later, it is discovered that the cashiers’ check is counterfeit after the money has been sent, and the escrow account suffers a shortage). 
    • Recommendation is to contact the bank or entity issuing the cashier’s check to confirm that the cashier’s check number and amount is valid prior to depositing the item in the account. Most banks will confirm this by telephone. Due to the increasing occurrences of counterfeit cashier’s checks, most banks have instituted mandatory holds on cashier’s checks. It is not uncommon for a hold to last up to 10 days (check with your bank to confirm their policy).
  • Name and address on earnest-money deposit check is different from that of the buyer.
  • Earnest-money deposit checks have inconsistent dates, for example:
    • Check #111 dated November 1
    • Check #113 dated September 1
    • Check #114 dated October 1
  • Earnest-money check is not cashed or is not reflected on the Closing Disclosure.

Download Our Fraud Detection Guide for Agents

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