The FBI, which Thursday announced hundreds of arrests for mortgage fraud nationwide, notes that the scammers are choosing from a long menu of possibilities in this uncertain market. For instance:
Bankruptcy as a scammer tool. "Mortgage fraud perpetrators are exploiting the U.S. bankruptcy system by filing fraudulent bankruptcy petitions to delay the foreclosure process and extract the maximum profit from victims during the commission of advance fee, fractional transfer, and sale-leaseback-repurchase foreclosure rescue schemes," the FBI says in its newest mortgage fraud report.
Flopping distressed property. "The perpetrators collude with appraisers or real estate agents to undervalue the property using an appraisal or a broker price opinion to further manipulate the price down (the flop) to increase their profit margin when they later flip the property," the FBI notes. "They negotiate a short sale with the bank or lender, purchase the property at the reduced price and flip it to a pre-selected buyer at a much higher price." (Here's an example of two Connecticut real estate agents -- make that former real estate agents -- who did just that.)
Stealing bank-owned property. Some enterprising crooks are recording fake deeds on empty bank-owned property, changing the locks and renting them out. "Recorders do not conduct due diligence to verify or otherwise determine the validity of property or other legal documents," the FBI says. "With access to the appropriate software and knowledge of required real estate documents, a perpetrator can create fictitious documents such as a deed of trust, have the deed notarized, pay a nominal fee, and present or mail the deed to the recorder."
Commercial real estate. Yup, it's not just houses anymore: "Perpetrators, including loan officers, real estate developers, appraisers, and apartment management companies, are increasingly submitting fraudulent documents that misrepresent their assets and property values to qualify for loans to buy or retain property," the FBI says. "When the loans are funded, the perpetrators often cease payment of their mortgages, resulting in foreclosure."
Where is this criminal commercial real estate behavior happening, you ask? Right here.
"Preliminary analysis indicates that the commercial markets exhibiting the most significant signs of distress are in areas where there is also a significant mortgage fraud problem," the FBI says. "These areas include the New York metropolitan area, Miami, Los Angeles and Orange County, Chicago, Boston, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, the District of Columbia, Atlanta, and Baltimore."
Maryland as a whole frequently appears on mortgage fraud top-ten lists. HUD's Office of Inspector General, which had 591 single-family loan investigations last fiscal year, said the states that showed up the most on its caseload were Illinois, California, Florida, Texas, New York, Maryland, Georgia, Colorado, Ohio and Pennsylvania.