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How to Avoid Mortgage Fraud

The process of buying or selling a house involves multiple parties and a lot of money, providing both opportunity and motive for mortgage fraud. Consumers should be aware that it is a crime to provide false or inaccurate information when applying for a home loan. If someone in the lending process encourages you to "fudge the truth," they are not looking out for your best interest. You could end up in trouble.

There are some important steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim of mortgage fraud. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), among numerous other state and federal agencies, investigates mortgage fraud. The FBI suggests the following to reduce your chances of becoming the victim of a mortgage fraud scheme:

  • Get referrals for companies you will need to work with: Make sure you know who you're dealing with when you buy, sell, finance, or refinance a house. Get referrals for real estate and mortgage professionals and check their state and local licenses.
  • Do your research: Find out what other homes, particularly those of similar size and value, have sold for. Also check recent tax assessments of nearby homes. Do the dollar amounts on the paperwork seem wrong?
  • Stay away from "No Money Down" loans: These are usually gimmicks to get people to buy homes they can't afford. At best, these loans have very unfavorable interest rates and terms.
  • Don't be persuaded to make false statements: This includes real estate agents, mortgage brokers or anyone else involved in the transaction. Even a seemingly slight overstatement of income is considered fraudulent.
  • Never sign a blank document: There are no legitimate reasons for signing a blank document or one containing blank lines. Always make sure you read and understand what you are signing.
  • Beware of unsolicited offers: If you already own a home and are having financial difficulties, beware of unsolicited offers to help you reduce or eliminate your mortgage debt in exchange for an up-front fee. These are not legitimate services and you may end up in a deeper hole than before.
  • Never agree to sign over the house deed "temporarily": Someone may suggest you sign over your house deed as part of a scheme to avoid foreclosure. Chances are, you'll lose your house permanently.

Some forms of mortgage fraud are committed without the buyer's knowledge or participation. These types of fraud include:

  • Using a stolen identity to purchase real estate
  • Equity skimming
  • Fraudulent appraisals
  • Using forged deeds and documents to convey title to a property and then taking out a mortgage on it

If you are concerned about the possibility of mortgage fraud, talk to a real estate attorney.

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