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

Tags: , , , ,

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.
This blog contains general information only, not intended to be relied upon as, nor a substitute for, specific professional advice. We accept no responsibility for loss occasioned to any purpose acting on or refraining from action as a result of any material on this blog.

Let’s Connect

Discover more stories and conversations on our social media networks,
or drop us a line on our contact page.


The Independent Underwriter for the Independent Agent®