There’s a new property on the market. It needs a little work, but it’s on sale for a bargain price. The seller inherited the deed after his mom died, it’s all very sad, he just wants the place off his hands, so you happily oblige him – and the timing is perfect, because your partner in the old house has asked that you split up and sell it. It’s a quick closing, no hassles, and handled by the seller’s friend at an escrow company.
Ten days later, you’re inside the new place, figuring out what needs work, when the door opens to reveal a woman standing there, staring at you like you’re an intruder in her home… because you are. You have the title to the house, but she has way more documentation proving without a shadow of a doubt that this place belongs to her.
You’ve fallen victim to a forged deed.
This scam is especially slimy because it leaves you with no recourse. The forged deed is void, the scammer’s scarpered (as has the ‘friend’), and most counties don’t have systems in place to handle this crime. There’s Title Insurance companies, which will defend your claim or pay you the value of the house, but that’s not much comfort if you didn’t use one in the transaction. Most people don’t think about getting this kind of insurance – why would I waste that money? Title fraud or other kinds of claims … will never happen to me, right?
Well, it’s got to happen to someone. It’s worth investigating Title Insurance in any case, and it could save you a world of hurt.
So, now you’ve lost the house.
Dazed, you move back in with your partner, hat in hand. You still own half the house, after all, so it’s no big deal. Your partner approaches you with some paperwork, saying she’s found a great interest rate on a new loan and she wants to refinance the mortgage. Less debt sounds good, and even though you’re too tired to deal with legalese, you trust your partner, and sign without reading too closely.
Fast-forward to you getting dumped for a younger version of yourself and getting kicked of the house out because, unknowingly, you signed over your half of the deed in a classic quitclaim scam.
Yeah, you’re having a rough week.
There are ways to fix this, especially if you file a complaint as soon as possible, but the best move is not to fall into the trap in the first place by reviewing all documents carefully. This might seem obvious, but if a scam comes from someone you trust, its way easier to let your guard down.
Speaking of letting your guard down…
Everyone’s heard stories of sleazy realtors. It’s almost a trope at this point – count the number of decent real estate agents that show up on TV or in the movies. I’ll give you a hint: it’s the same as the decent lawyers. (Damn few…)
That’s not to say that scummy realtors don’t exist, but there’s systems in place to run them out of the industry. But what if the realtor pulling the scam… isn’t a realtor?
Between late 2017 and early 2019, Ms Flores-Morales posed as a real estate agent to scam homebuyers, particularly undocumented immigrants. She’d show them the outside of pre-foreclosure but still occupied homes, say she’d purchase the place for the buyers (remember, they are undocumented), collect a deposit from them, and leave them hanging.
She targeted a community she knew wouldn’t or couldn’t get the police involved, and that’s what let her string people along for almost two years.
The problem with scammers is that, if they’re any good, they’re smart. If they expended the energy needed to come up with new scams on something useful, we’d be holidaying on Mars.
It might seem easy to avoid these pitfalls, but a successful scam artist is confident and knows who to target. Every demographic has a weakness. An affinity for a quick, cheap purchase; an overly trusting nature; a precarious living situation – all these types are targets. With an ageing population that isn’t tech savvy, we’re seeing a big rise in email phishing scams, too.
It’s impossible to plan for everything, but remember the main scamming tactics, and you’ll be better equipped to help your clients and your business.