If there was one major takeaway from the National Crime Prevention Council’s 2013 Mortgage Fraud Virtual Conference, it was this: The mortgage market, while no longer a wicked stepchild of the housing crisis, must still be carefully monitored. Though its tantrum-throwing days may be over, the $1.1 trillion government loan industry has the potential to cause serious economic damage should fraudulent mortgage activity persist unchecked.
“What is old is new again,” says Michael Stolworthy, Director of Fraud Prevention for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. “We’re starting to see some disturbing trends. The same old type of mortgage cases are coming up.”
False statements on loan applications, inflated appraisals, and loan modification schemes are just some of the ways fraud is reappearing in the mortgage market. And with government loans on the rise—the number of mortgages insured by the Federal Housing Administration has nearly doubled since 2006—the potential for mortgage fraud increases, especially among applicants in shaky financial condition.
“Back during the mortgage boom, people who had taken out second and third mortgages were living the champagne lifestyle on a beer budget,” says Robert Simken, a former real estate practitioner turned police officer in Eustis, Fla. “Now, those same people are living in homes that are underwater and willing to do just about anything to get out of their bind.”
Problems arise when that “anything” includes turning to loan counselors, lenders, and alleged real estate professionals who make promises they never plan to keep. “If an opportunity comes along that seems too good to be true and the little hairs on your neck stick up and say ‘danger,’ don’t just ignore them,” Simken warns.
Through public outreach campaigns and educational seminars, organizations like the National Crime Prevention Council stress the importance of using an accredited real estate professional when contemplating any property transaction. “Half the people haven’t checked the qualifications of the individual helping them buy a home,” says Ann Harkins, CEO and President of NCPC.
Simkens agrees that home owners should seek advice from a noted professional. “You don’t go to the butcher for brain surgery and you don’t go to a brain surgeon for chopped meat,” he says. “It’s important to find an expert and not just someone who shows up and can recite the jargon.” Continue reading »