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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.

 

 

 

Despite the housing market recovery, scammers are still attempting to defraud unsuspecting homeowners, according to the California Bureau of Real Estate (CalBRE)). CalBRE is asking consumers and real estate agents to be on the alert and report suspicious fraudulent activity.

CalBRE real estate commissioner Wayne Bell recently told Silicon Valley real estate professionals at a meeting of the Filipino American Real Estate Professionals Association (FAREPA) that the bureau is reaching out to the public and real estate organizations and seeking their help in catching criminals that continue to prey on unsuspecting and financially distressed homeowners. Bell said real estate agents are themselves targets of fraud, along with consumers, especially the elderly. He is asking anyone suspecting scams involving real estate to report their suspicions to the bureau, or visit its website at www.dre.ca.gov and file a complaint.

“We would like to see a culture of compliance with our laws,” said Bell. “We want to educate real estate professionals who want to aspire for professionalism and segregate them from the crooks that don’t.”

Bell said the bureau is seeing a rise in cases of affinity fraud, where criminals prey upon members of ethnic communities. These scams often go unreported because many in these groups are afraid to contact government authorities.

Foreclosure rescue scams and pitching of forensic loan audits are still prevalent. These scams involve fraudulent foreclosure “rescue” professionals who sell services that promise relief to financially strapped homeowners in exchange for an advanced fee.

Unlicensed property management companies are targeting agents, selling them worthless lists of rentals. Then there’s online rental fraud, where scammers hijack a listing and put it up on Craigslist and other websites. These scammers are difficult to catch, said Bell, because they move from one place to another.

Bell said homeowners need to beware of property record fraud, a scam that can be simply done by someone recording a false document in the county recorder’s office. The document makes it appear as if they own someone else’s property. Seniors are often the target of this type of crime and reverse mortgage scams.

Bell advises consumers and agents to make sure a person’s license is legitimate by checking the CalBRE website, which shows license status in real time and disciplinary actions taken against a licensee; be vigilant; be skeptical; don’t send money over the Internet; see the rental property first, or contact a legitimate agent to help you. He also advises homeowners to check the title to their property and make sure there are no liens imposed on the property.

November 2020
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