Have you unknowingly perpetrated Mortgage Fraud?

by Dan Krell
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You’ve probably read a few recent articles featuring victims of the mortgage crisis. Many of these home owners claimed to have been duped into obtaining loans that they could not afford. One recent article described how the home owner went along with a plan to obtain a mortgage that involved using someone else’s credit as well as artificially inflating their bank account to qualify. Is the home owner guilty of mortgage fraud if she knowingly follows the scheme of their real estate agent and/or mortgage broker to deceive the lender to qualify for a mortgage?

Among the many crime reports published by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the Mortgage Fraud Report. According to the latest (2006) Mortgage Fraud Report (www.fbi.gov/publications/fraud/mortgage_fraud06.htm) mortgage fraud is defined as “the intentional misstatement, misrepresentation, or omission by an applicant or other interested parties, relied on by a lender or underwriter to provide funding for, to purchase, or to insure a mortgage loan.” As the Maryland and Virginia areas are described as being significantly affected by mortgage fraud, the FBI cited recent increases of mortgage fraud are due to many perpetrators of fraud who have taken advantage of recent lenient credit standards.

The FBI divides mortgage fraud into two categories, fraud-for-profit and fraud-for-property. Fraud-for-profit typically involves schemes or scams for financial gain. According to the FBI, fraud-for-profit schemes (also referred to as “industry insider fraud”) often involves artificially inflating property values, obtaining loans on non-existent properties, or “revolve equity.” Illegal flipping schemes that commonly use straw buyers and fraudulent appraisals are examples of fraud-for-profit.

Fraud-for-property, however, is the misrepresentation by a borrower so as to obtain a loan to purchase a home. Fraud-for-housing increased in recent years due to the rise of home prices; applicants would provide misleading or false employment, income, and asset information to the lender to qualify for the loan. Although the intent of the borrower is to repay the loan, this activity is still illegal and can lead to Federal prosecution.

To avoid becoming involved in a mortgage fraud scheme, the FBI provides these tips: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is; Get referral for real estate and mortgage professionals and check the licenses with regulatory agencies; Be wary of strangers and unsolicited contacts, as well as high-pressure sales techniques; Look at written information to verify the value of the property; Understand what you are signing and agreeing to – If you do not understand, seek assistance from an attorney; Make sure the name on your application matches the name on your identification; Review the title history to determine if the property has been “flipped” and the value falsely inflated; Know and understand the terms of your mortgage (Check your information against the information in the loan documents to ensure they are accurate and complete); Never sign any loan documents that contain blanks as this leaves you vulnerable to fraud.

Mortgage fraud is not a victimless crime. Besides foreclosed upon borrowers and mortgage entities, other victims include legitimate borrowers and those living in neighborhoods affected by mortgage fraud. For additional information on avoiding mortgage fraud, visit the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) website (www.StopMortgageFraud.com).

This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of March 24, 2008. Copyright © 2008 Dan Krell.