In March 2011, seven people were arrested and indicted in a mortgage fraud scheme. For approximately two years the defendants had perpetuated their scheme in more than 18 transactions. The indictment says they "knowingly and willfully devised, and intended to devise, a scheme and artifice to defraud lenders … to obtain money from lenders by means of material facts and fraudulent pretenses, representations, and promises, and by intentional concealment and omission of material facts."
Here’s an example of how the scam worked. The loan officer lured in a straw buyer by telling him he would be paid $10,000 for every house he purchased without having to put any money down, along with additional money when the homes were resold. Sounds great, right? The ring leader would remodel the house and rent it out. After two years, the house would be resold to the renter. The rent payments were applied toward the mortgage payments.
The straw buyer agreed to lend his name and credit to a transaction. The parties closed on the purchase of one property on a Wednesday for $550,000. The straw buyer obtained a mortgage for $495,000. The loan application contained the following material false statements:
The lender wired $502,041.34 to the escrow/title company. The escrow/ title company issued a check in the amount of $144,861.78 to a shell company the ring leader owned. This disbursement was not disclosed to the lender on the HUD-1. The straw buyer was given $9,700 cash in a paper bag by the loan officer after closing.
On Thursday the ring leader withdrew $66,500 from her bank account and converted it to a cashier’s check. The cashier’s check was provided to the escrow/title company as the down payment and closing costs purporting to be from the straw buyer and not third party funds.
Did you notice the timeline? The file closed before all the funds were in. This is what facilitated the scheme. The $144,861.78 is released to the ring leader who deposits the funds into her account so she can turn around and provide the down payment check on behalf of the buyer. No one is out any cash up front.
The perpetrators were indicted on 14 different charges. Their scheme qualified them for almost $13.5 million in fraudulent loans and received over $2,907,452 in ill-gotten gain from the proceeds of these loans and real estate transactions.
Here are some of the other details from the indictment:
A "cash back" scheme is one variation of mortgage fraud. In a "cash back" scheme, the perpetrator of the scheme offers to purchase a property for more than the seller’s asking price and submits a contract to the seller for the inflated price. The seller agrees to the sale because they are generally receiving the full asking price.
Often a "straw buyer" is used to facilitate the "cash back" scheme. Generally, a straw buyer is someone recruited by the perpetrator to take out a mortgage and purchase a house in their name. The straw buyer normally does not live in the house or have the intent to reside at the house.
A Uniform Loan Application, also known as Form 1003, is prepared for the straw buyer. A lender uses this form to record relevant financial information about the applicant who applies for a mortgage. Misrepresentations are made to qualify the straw buyer for a mortgage. In signing the loan application, the straw buyer acknowledges that "the information provided in the application is true and correct."
This scheme could have never been pulled off without the escrow/title company. The indictment goes on to identify the role of an escrow/ title company in a real estate transaction:
A title or escrow company is used in which the subject property is deposited for safekeeping under the trust of a neutral third party (escrow agent) pending satisfaction of a contractual contingency or condition. Once the conditions are met, the escrow agent will deliver the property to the party by the contract.
After receiving the loan documents facilitating the buyer and seller signing, escrow agents prepare a final HUD-1 wherein details of the actual receipt of lender funds and fund disbursements are listed for the records of the lender, seller and purchaser. The escrow agent is required to disburse funds according to what has been indicated in the HUD-1 settlement statement.
The escrow agent received the down payment from the ring leader in transaction after transaction and never disclosed them as third party funds. The disbursements were also hidden since the ring leader was paid out of the escrow file without being disclosed to the lender on the HUD-1. The escrow/title company who handled these closings is now closed.
All of this information was crucial to the lender because a "cash back scheme puts the loan at a greater risk as the loan originates with negative equity in the property." To summarize, "the co-conspirators artificially inflated the sales contract prices … the defendants concealed from the lending institutions by intentionally withholding from the lender that payments were made to unrelated third parties to the transactions or omitting on the HUD-1 that at the close of each sale a portion of the loan was paid to an unrelated third party to the transaction. Additionally, in some transactions, the parties failed to disclose to the lender that the straw buyer or purchaser of the property received cash back from other members of this conspiracy for the use of straw buyer’s credit to purchase the property."
Moral Of The Story
All receipts and disbursements must be completely and accurately disclosed on the HUD-1 and to the lender. Making disbursements to individuals or entities who are not a party to the transaction is completely unacceptable. Seller proceeds should be disbursed to the seller only and not their LLC or members of their LLC.
Posted: 20 Apr 2011 04:28 PM PDT
Here are the additional underwriting guidelines for those with a 600-639 credit score with this lender:
The property must be a single-family residence, condominium or PUD. The following property types and loan purposes are ineligible:
o 2-4 unit properties.
o Build-on-own land transactions.
o Loan amounts greater than $417,000.
• Maximum ratios for loans receiving a Total Scorecard “refer” response – 31/43.
• Borrowers may not have had any short sales, “settled for less than amount owed,” public records, judgments, bankruptcies, foreclosures or tax liens in the most recent three years.
• Borrowers may not have had any collections, other than medical, in the most recent 12 months.
• Borrowers may not have had any 30-day late payments on mortgage, rent or installment debt in the most recent 12 months.
• Borrowers may not have had more than one 30-day late payment on revolving debt in the most recent 12 months.
• Cash-in-hand for cash-out transactions is limited to $25,000.
• Overtime, bonus, second job, income from part-time employment, commission income and self-employment income may not be used to qualify unless the borrower has at least a two-year history of receiving the income. The two years must be consecutive years of employment, but employment with the same employer is not required.
• Gifts may not be used to pay down or pay off revolving or installment debt for qualification purposes. However, gifts, grants, eligible down payment assistance programs and/or loans from family members are permissible sources of funds to close on a purchase transaction, subject to all FHA requirements and [Lender] overlays.
• Non-occupant co-borrowers are permitted, provided the occupying borrowers qualify without the non-occupant borrower’s income at ratios of 35/45.
• Loans for borrowers with credit scores below 640 may now be submitted under the Check-and-Close underwriting channel.
• All other FHA requirements and [Lender] overlays apply.
A recent report by the National Association of Realtors (NAR) reveals interesting information regarding the shadow inventory of the hardest hit states.
It is pretty well known that Arizona, Nevada, California, and Florida have been most affected by the foreclosure crisis. Together the four states make up 42 percent of the foreclosure volume in the United States.
But the situation is improving somewhat. The Mortgage Bankers Association reported that in the last quarter of 2010, 90-plus day delinquencies fell in these four hard-hit states. At the same time, total non-current loans have dropped 38 percent nationally.
Florida has the largest shadow inventory, with more than 441,000 properties.
“The issue in Florida largely stems from inflated foreclosure inventory, which takes a very long time to clear,” said the report.
The average number of days loans are delinquent in Florida is 638 days. The report also notes that California and Florida have seen the length of their foreclosure processes rise more than 150 percent since 2008.
But Arizona and Nevada, while still ranking in the top 25 states with the largest shadow inventory, are “fairing much better in terms of the shadow inventory.”
“This is largely due to their shadow inventory moving somewhat faster through the pipe lines and comprising large share of existing sales,” the report continued.
Distressed sales make up 55 percent of existing sales in Arizona and nearly 70 percent in Nevada. The report calculates the number of months it would take each state to clear its shadow inventory, by dividing the shadow inventory by the monthly number of distressed sales.
Using this formula, NAR found it would take 51 months to clear the shadow inventory in New Jersey, where only about 20 percent of existing home sales are distressed sales.
By contrast, Nevada’s distressed sales make up 70 percent of existing home sales, and by NAR’s calculations, the states shadow inventory could be cleared in as little as 7 months.
NAR calculated it would take 21 to 30 months to clear the shadow inventory in several states, including Florida, Louisiana, Hawaii, and Washington.
Like Nevada, Arizona fell into the 7-10 month range.
The majority of the states fell within the 11 to 20 month range, including California and Texas.
The California Department Of Motor Vehicles (DMV) added new security enhancements to its driver’s license and identification cards. Beginning in September 2010, the State of California began issuing driver’s license and identification cards containing new security features. The last major revision made to these cards was in 2001. Since the DMV issues more than 8.25 million driver’s license and identification cards each year, it is important Our Company has the tools to make sure these cards are safe, authentic, secure, and accurate.
The information on the new driver’s license and identification cards is the same as the previously issued cards but is presented in a new format, which improves readability. The format of the card issued to individuals under 21 will be vertical and those over 21 will be horizontal. This serves as an aid to retailers and law enforcement in easily identifying the age of the cardholder.
Additional enhancements are:
For complete details and samples log on to the California Department of Motor Vehicles Website at: http://www.dmv.ca.gov/dl/dl.htm.
"The new security features, coupled with advanced technology, make California driver license and identification cards one of the most secure identification documents in the country," said DMV Director George Valverde. All driver’s license and identification cards issued prior to September 2010 will remain valid until the expiration date printed on the card. Cardholders who wish to have a new card before their expiration date may do so for a fee.
A fraudster hacks the e-mail account of a retired escrow officer to open a sale transaction and obtain a $530,000 loan. The fraudster would have pulled off the perfect scam had it not been for the keen eyes of a title examiner.
Patrick Crews, a title examiner from Chicago Title’s Ventura County, Calif. operation, was working on files that were recorded on an extremely busy day. He picked up a file for a sale transaction with a price of $980,000. Patrick noted the property was free and clear. The closing was being handled by an independent escrow company from an area unfamiliar to Patrick. This particular file had been opened a week prior as a rush order. The order had been transferred from another title company at the insistence of the private party lender (a long time customer of Chicago Title’s).
The lender was worried about funding to a title company he didn’t know and was more comfortable dealing with Chicago Title, even though the buyer had a $400,000 earnest money deposit in escrow. At first the parties to the transaction put up a fight, but the lender said he would pull out of the deal unless the transaction transferred to Chicago Title.
The recording package was received by special messenger that afternoon. While Patrick worked on the file he noticed that the signature on the grant deed did not match signatures on documents recorded previously in the chain of title. He went on about his work performing an index search on the grantor’s name. He also ran a name search on the notary who witnessed the signing of the grant deed. The notary was an employee of a postal type storefront. Patrick was highly suspicious.
Patrick escalated the file to the title officer and explained that he suspected the grantor’s signature on the deed had been forged. The title officer proceeded to e-mail the escrow officer who worked for the independent escrow company and ask for a new grant deed to be executed by the seller at a Chicago Title office in the presence of an employee. The title officer received an unusual e-mail response from the escrow officer saying that she was declining to close the escrow due to suspicious activity. No further details were provided in the response.
The title officer contacted the lender to notify him of the escrow officer’s response and to return the lender’s $530,000 wire. The lender in turn tried to contact the escrow officer but was unable to get through using the phone number listed in previous e-mails to him. The lender attempted to contact the buyer and seller at different numbers, but received the same voicemail message for each number.
The lender then decided to contact the owner of the property through the telephone directory, rather than through the number provided by the buyer and seller’s representative. The property owner confirmed the suspicions of Patrick, the title officer and escrow officer’s when he told the lender the property was never listed for sale and that he knew nothing about an opened escrow.
The lender immediately contacted the FBI to report the situation. The FBI referred the lender to the local Sheriff Department’s Real Estate Fraud Unit. The Sheriff’s Department tried to locate the escrow officer, but found she had long since retired. Apparently, her e-mail account had been hacked by the scam artist and the phone numbers provided to the lender to contact the escrow officer, buyer and seller were actually prepaid cell phones all held by the same individual. The detective assigned to the case also called the notary and discovered the notary’s stamp had been copied and the notary signature was a forgery.
The detective confirmed that the independent escrow company was unaware of any possible escrow transaction and that the fraudsters likely obtained the name of their retired escrow officer from their corporate Website. Using the escrow officer’s e-mail account, the fraudsters opened the title order with another company and later with Chicago Title Company. Through the escrow officer’s e-mail account they confirmed receipt of a $400,000 deposit that didn’t even exist!
The fraudsters nearly pulled off the perfect scam. They would have taken ownership of a property worth nearly a million dollars and encumbered it with a lien for $530,000. If it weren’t for Patrick’s detection of the forged deed and for escalating his suspicions to the title officer, the fraudsters would have made off with nearly $530,000 in proceeds. As a result, Patrick has been rewarded $1,000 as well as a letter of recognition from the Company. It would have been easier to accept the deed and record it by ignoring his intuition, but he didn’t. As a result, Patrick saved the Company from a monumental loss.
Moral Of The Story
The detective told the title officer and Patrick that he was worried that the fraudsters might attempt to sell the house out from under the owner again using another fake escrow until they were successful. As a result, the title officer posted the property address to the title plant records to make sure this doesn’t happen again and any title provider working on this particular property will be notified of the potential for fraud.
The real lesson of the story is that once an employee leaves the Company, his/her e-mail account should either be immediately shut down or re-directed to another employee to constantly monitor. Had the independent escrow company shutdown the retired escrow officer’s e-mail account, it could not have been hacked!
FHA REO training comes to Phoenix AZ:
March 7, 2011 – Phoenix, AZ. Selling HUD REO Properties & FHA Updates for Real Estate Brokers. Live FHA training will be presented by the Santa Ana Homeownership Center. Topics will include: Selling HUD Real Estate Owned (REO) properties, the HudHome Live Auction scheduled for March 26, 2011 in Phoenix, AZ, & FHA changes & updates. This free training is recommended for real estate brokers interested in selling HUD homes. Registration required, no fee. More info at: http://www.hud.gov/emarc/index.cfm?fuseaction=emar.registerEvent&eventId=764&update=N