Sisters landowner narrowly escapes fraud attempt

 

Last updated 3/28/2023 at Noon



In information provided to The Nugget by a local realtor, a Sisters Country landowner on Foothill Loop, three miles northeast of town, answered a phone call from the president of his homeowners association asking if it was true that he was selling his lot. He wasn’t, but it was listed as “For Sale” by a legitimate, licensed real estate broker in the Willamette Valley.

It is customary in property transactions for HOAs to be called verifying the seller’s standing with respect to being current with dues and any special assessments. As soon as it was realized that the property had been listed for sale by a bogus seller, the agent pulled the listing and the property owner was spared.

More and more title theft and real estate scams are plaguing the industry. As real estate prices have soared since 2019, according to the FBI there has been a steady increase in losses reported by victims of real estate/rental scams in the last three years.

Nationwide, in 2021, 11,578 people reported losing $350,328,166 due to these types of scams, a 64 percent increase from the previous year. And that’s just what’s reported. Only last week a retired Colorado school teacher, 69, and her daughter were scammed out of $197,000 by the first of the five biggest ways victims are targeted — escrow fraud.

Escrow wire fraud

Here’s how it works, says BankRate.com: You get an email, phone call, or text from someone purporting to be from the title or escrow company with instructions on where to wire your escrow funds. Fraudsters set up fake websites that appear similar to the title or lending company you’re working with, making it seem like the real deal.

Scammers use spoofing tactics to make phone numbers, websites, and email addresses appear familiar. But in these cases, one number or letter is often off — an easy thing to miss, explains Melinda Opperman, chief relationship officer at Credit.org, a nonprofit credit counseling agency.

Home title fraud

This rapidly growing form of theft is where a criminal steals a home by forging a deed. David Chang, writing for the newsletter The Ascent, explains they then illegally transfer ownership of the home without the real homeowner’s permission. It is essentially where a fraudster steals your home and either sells it or takes out a loan against it without you even knowing about it. When the mortgage is not paid, the property enters foreclosure.

The scammer first finds a property they want to steal, typically one with equity in it. They will then forge documents that transfer the ownership of the house to themselves. After they file the documents with the proper authorities, they now have legal ownership of the property. They then sell the property to unknowing third parties or take home equity lines of credit (HELOC) against the property and don’t pay it back. Some criminals have also taken multiple mortgages against the property.

According to the FBI, there are other variations.

Con artists find a vacant home, like a rental property or vacation home, and find out who the owner is through a little research. They then steal the owner’s identity, illegally transfer the title to their name, and pocket the proceeds from selling the property or getting a HELOC. In some cases, the criminals steal a house with the family still living in it. They sell the home to a buyer without the family even knowing about it. The rightful owners continue paying the mortgage in a house they no longer own.

Protect yourself

The Oregon Realtors Association has issued this advisory: Exercise extra caution when any of the following red flags are present:

• The listing involves vacant land or a condo.

• The property is listed for significantly below market value.

• The seller is not in Oregon and/or is out of the country.

• The seller will only sign documents remotely and will not provide someone to meet locally.

• The seller refuses to provide detail about the property such as HOA information or information about wells or water rights.

• The seller is aggressive and set to close quickly.

Independently search for the identity and a recent picture of the property seller or independently attempt to identify the ownership of the property.

Do not rely on the owner’s contact information provided in an ad or the “seller” or the listing agent; independently find a telephone number for the owner or send an overnight delivery service letter to the address where property tax bills are sent.

Talk with the seller’s agent to determine whether the agent has actually seen or spoken with the seller or whether all communications have been by email.

Request an in-person or virtual meeting and to see the “seller’s” government-issued identification.

Be cautious when a seller accepts an offer below market value in exchange for cash and/or a quick closing.

Never allow a seller to arrange their own notary closing. Verify that the notary is a real person appointed by the applicable governmental agency.

 

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