My law practice touches on real estate in many ways, whether in the form of transactions, litigation over property rights, or probate matters. Over the last 30 years I’ve seen all kinds of real estate and mortgage fraud, and all manner of shady or questionable transactions.
Sometimes the perpetrator is a professional scam artist. They are everywhere, and they are always on the lookout for their next victim. Sometimes the culprit behind a scam is, or appears to be, a professional, such as a real estate agent, a mortgage loan officer, or even an attorney. I have seen it all, and every year I see new variations on the theme.
The most common scam remains the “just give me your deed and I’ll get you out of foreclosure” play. Sometimes it comes from someone you know, or trust. More often, it comes from a stranger who talks a good game. They sound professional, they have a respectable-looking office, maybe even a slick website.
The deeper in the financial home the homeowner is, the more likely he will fall prey to scam like that. That’s just human nature. The professional scammer knows where to find the most desperate people. For years I’ve seen one particular bad guy prey on homeowners in Brooklyn. His name came up in certain neighborhoods too often to be coincidental. He especially likes to target people of color.
The story goes like this most of the time: “Investor” befriends homeowner in distress. Sometimes “investor” makes friends with a real estate agent eager to make money but too lazy to get listings honestly. Agent sniffs out a desperate homeowner, pretends to be her friend, and reels her in, bringing investor into the picture a little later on.
Either way, investor smiles a lot. Investor helps out with homeowner’s bills. Investor helps evict a non-paying tenant that homeowner can’t afford to fight on her own. Investor offers to go into partnership with homeowner. Investor puts up the cash, homeowner puts up the deed. Sometimes investor pays off the mortgage and keeps the deed. Sometimes investor just keeps the deed without paying more than a few thousand dollars to homeowner. Either way, investor is careful not to put the “partnership” in writing.
“What partnership”, says “investor” after the fact. “You were never my partner. You were going to lose your house anyway”. See this page at Freddie Mac for Federal government information on “investor” foreclosure rescue scams.
Sometimes homeowner complains to the District Attorney’s office. Most of the time the DA’s office does nothing because the case isn’t big enough to get news headlines. Once in a while, the DA’s investigator will call “investor” and question him. “Investor” tells the investigator, “Yes, I took advantage of someone in trouble. It’s not a crime”. Usually the DA’s office agrees and again, nothing happens.
Sometimes “investor” will enlist an unscrupulous lawyer to make the scam go down easier. “You’re not giving me advice I want to hear”, I’ve heard homeowner tell me, “I’m going to hire this other lawyer that investor recommends”. And off homeowner goes, retaining investor’s lawyer.
Investor’s lawyer has an enormous conflict of interest. Investor’s lawyer is looking out for investor, not for homeowner.
I have seen this happen. Read a published article about lawyers participating in foreclosure rescue scams here.
Don’t’ let it happen to you. If you are in financial trouble, if you are behind on your mortgage, don’t take advice from anyone who may have an ulterior motive or an adverse interest. Don’t take advice from a lawyer being paid by someone else. Don’t take advice from anyone connected with an “investor” who promises to save your house.
Do get advice from an independent source. Call the lawyer your friend, who has nothing to gain from your trouble, recommends. Call the Bar Association. Whatever you do, get your own INDEPENDENT legal advice, even if it costs you more than you want to spend. If you don’t, you most certainly will pay a lot more later. You get what you pay for. And NEVER agree to anything involving your home or your mortgage unless and until you’ve received that independent legal advice. Don’t fall for the investor’s smile.