The office of the Santa Clara County District Attorney is being proactive in investigating and prosecuting real estate-related fraud activities. This week, assistant district attorney Charlie Huang called on REALTORS® and their clients to report any suspicious activity by contacting the district attorney’s real estate fraud unit directly.

The real estate fraud unit has expanded its workforce and now has three prosecutors (compared with just two in 2005-2006), 1.5 paralegals, five to seven investigators and one coordinator. As a result, between 2014 and 2015, the unit was able to investigate 143 cases amounting to $97.6 million in losses, compared with 68 cases in 2005-2006 and $14.5 million losses.

Huang said it is the job of the unit to investigate and prosecute real estate-related fraud activities and conduct outreach to the public so people are aware of the scams. Roundtable discussions with real estate professionals aid the unit since real estate professionals can warn their clients of recent scams.

Types of real estate fraud depend on the state of the economy, according to Huang. During the recession, when thousands of homes were underwater, foreclosure and mortgage loan modification scams were prevalent. These days, because of the tight housing inventory, there has been a rise in rental scams. Other commonly prosecuted activities are mortgage fraud, forgery/false documents, theft/embezzlement, investment schemes, identity theft and unlicensed activity. Huang added it is against the law for anyone to collect advance fees for loan modification services for any reason, even if services are broken down in component parts.

Victims of real estate fraud are all types, from the very educated, the young college graduate, to seniors. Huang noted while some victims are able to receive restitution, it is not the same as getting back all the money lost, so the best thing is not be a victim of fraud.

Huang cautioned against completing contest forms online, ads of rentals on Craigslist and fraudulent websites. If you see or hear of any suspicious activity, call the real estate fraud hotline at (408) 792-2879.