How to Avoid Mortgage Fraud
News articles throughout the U.S. headline stories about indictments for mortgage fraud. Although you may think you could never be scammed, you should think again.
Above-average, intelligent, middle-class professionals have been duped as well as the average Joe. Almost no one is beyond the long arm of a mortgage scammer’s reach. You can, however, become better educated in the antics of fraudsters in order to thwart the most common scams used.
Today, the most common mortgage scams played out in the media are perpetrated against those who are in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure and homeowners who are eager to sell their properties. Other types of mortgage fraud exist, too, though.
A good example of fraudulent practices against homeowners facing foreclosure is in the case of a recent Florida indictment. One financial company with offices statewide was indicted on several counts of defrauding trusting homeowners in default or facing foreclosure. Promising to help homeowners who were in default of their mortgages to keep their homes, the company was taking money from the homeowners without providing any assistance. Homeowners ended up losing their homes to foreclosure. More often, low-income and Hispanics were the victims.
In order to avoid mortgage fraud, you’ll want to understand the motivation behind it. There are two basic classifications of mortgage fraud - fraud for property or housing and fraud for profit.
Fraud for property or housing typically occurs when a potential homebuyer desires certain property that they clearly cannot afford. The borrower submits intentionally fraudulent information regarding income, employment, assets or debt in order for the income to appear inflated qualifying the applicant for the loan. This is done with the thought that no one will dig deep enough to discover the facts. Sometimes, the borrower will enlist family members or mortgage professionals to assist in the fraud.
Lenders, however, often detect this kind of fraud through thorough review and validation of documents and by keeping diligent records. Contrary to what many might think, it is against federal law to assert intentional incorrect information on loan applications. Those who do are at risk of being charged with a felony and serving time in prison.
Fraud for profit scams often involve a group of mortgage professionals who defraud a potential homebuyer, a potential lender or a homeowner in danger of foreclosure. One example of this is a mortgage scam played out in the Midwest just recently. A builder, real estate broker, mortgage broker, and appraiser were all involved in a scam to inflate the value of homes in order to skim off the excess of the actual value. The difference of the value of the home versus the loaned amount was distributed among everyone involved in the scam.
After the discovery of the fraud, homeowners find out that they are stuck with paying for property that is valued less than what they actually loaned. Lenders, on the other hand, were forced to foreclose on some of these properties that ended up being worth far less than the amount owed on the property.
Another example may be the case of a dishonest mortgage broker who presents loan documents for a straw buyer - a buyer who does not exist, so fraudulent information is presented on the loan documents to create the illusion of a real buyer who can afford the property. The loan is dispensed and the mortgage broker walks away with the money with no intent to live in the home or pay for the property.
Sometimes straw buyers are represented by real people who participate in the fraud for financial gain. This often occurs, again, when there is no intent to live in the home and often with no intent to pay for the mortgage.
There are more mortgage fraud examples than there is space to write about them. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides thorough information on mortgage scams and how to avoid them. Just go to their site at ftc.gov and search under look for the tabs under Consumer Protection. You’ll find all you’d ever want to know about how mortgage fraud occurs and how to avoid it.
If you are facing financial difficulties that are making it difficult to pay your mortgage payments, you may want to enlist the assistance of an experienced financial advisor. If you do, however, make sure the company you hire is reputable. Check with your lender to see what programs they may offer or if they can refer you to a reputable financial advisor. You may also want to visit Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac sites for new federal programs available.
In addition, free advice is available through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) certified agents. Speak to a HUD certified housing counseling user by calling (888) 995-HOPE.
Ki works and lives in Austin. He has been involved with Austin real estate for a decade. His site escapesomewhere.com developed a Austin MLS search with houses and commercial properties. His site also has a Austin real estate blog with news and statistics.