Escrow Officer Indicted

By Lisa A. Tyler
National Escrow Administrator

Local and national media have recently focused on indictments of individuals perpetrating mortgage fraud. Included on the list of "bad guys" are escrow settlement employees who facilitated the crimes. In Arizona alone, the licenses of five escrow officers have already been revoked for writing unauthorized checks from escrow accounts to relatives, real estate agents, loan officers, contractors and cleaning companies.

A California escrow officer is in cahoots with a mortgage company perpetually committing fraud, and she thinks no one will find out – until her arrest for her part in the mortgage fraud scheme! Read all about it in "Escrow Officer is Arrested at Her Office."

Confused about the Company's requirements for insuring transactions involving documents signed outside the U.S.? We reveal the secrets to closing successfully when the principals reside outside U.S. borders in "Documents Signed in a Foreign Country."

Thuy Tran, an escrow officer in California's Bay Area, spotted a fake identification in a recent real estate transaction and has been rewarded by the Company. Read all about it in "Attire Tips-off Escrow Officer to Fake ID."

Have a story to share? Please use our online form to submit the details! The form can be found at, or if you are not much of an author, contact your National Escrow Administrator at 888.934.3354. We look forward to hearing from you soon.



Escrow Officer is Arrested at Her Office

A California escrow officer was arrested May 9, 2007 in her office (how embarrassing!) for closing seven transactions involving mortgage fraud.

The owners of a California mortgage company and three others were arrested May 9, 2007 for their roles in a $3,579,000 real estate fraud scheme. Amy Schloemann and her husband Karim Akil were named in a 73-count complaint filed in Superior Court accusing them of defrauding two mortgage companies, Union Bank of California, local real estate brokers and the citizens of the State of California from April 2005 through August 2006.

The couple used their company, Hiddenbrooke Mortgage in Vallejo, California, to create fraudulent home loan applications for seven different homes in Oakland, California, and submit them to New Century Mortgage and Right-Away Mortgage.

The indictment alleges the owners, an employee of Hiddenbrooke Mortgage and Wonda Kidd, an escrow officer with Financial Title company in San Leandro, California, created false documentation for the loans using fake addresses and bank accounts, and forged documents purporting to be from Union Bank.

In some cases the defendants even used the identities of actual real estate brokers without their knowledge.

With Kidd's help, the defendants manipulated the loan application process to artificially inflate the value of the home before diverting the proceeds of each sale. Some of the ill-gotten gains went straight to Hiddenbrooke Mortgage, while other proceeds went to Hiddenbrooke associates and business partners.

The owners and three others, including the escrow officer, were arrested on May 9, 2007 for their role in the $3,579,000 real estate fraud scheme.

Moral of the Story
Law enforcement agents realize that complex mortgage fraud schemes can not occur without an escrow settlement agent either turning a blind eye to facts or knowingly participating in the scheme. Oftentimes the escrow settlement agent does not receive renumeration for her participation, but rather the promise of more business. It is unbelievable that an escrow officer would risk his/her career on bad business.


Documents Signed in a Foreign Country

This article details the Company's requirements for insuring transaction documents executed outside of the United States.

According to FNF's signing procedures (2005-RC-04), documents executed by foreign (meaning the documents are not executed on U.S. soil) individuals, entities and military personnel, are exempt from the Company's document execution guidelines. However, this does not mean that we should not take precautionary measures when documents are signed in a foreign country.

We must be sure that the signing party can and will accomplish the signing, notarization and authentication of the documents. Determining the status and processes is critical to a successful closing. When the executed documents are returned to escrow, copies of the recordable documents should be transmitted to the title officer immediately to determine if they are properly signed, notarized and authenticated. Do not wait until you are releasing your documents for recordation to find out if the documents are acceptable to your title officer.

Members of the United States Military Service and their dependents stationed abroad may have their signatures notarized by certain commissioned officers.
In such cases, a notarial seal is normally not required. However, the commissioned officer must include his/her rank and commission/serial number in the notarial certificate. Documents bearing a military notary acknowledgement should be approved by the title officer prior to closing.

The procedures for notarizing documents for non-military persons abroad might differ depending on if the documents are being signed in a country that is a member of the Hague Convention Treaty. To determine if the principal is in a Hague Convention member country, visit the U.S. Department of State Web site at or the Hague Conference on International Law at

Parties signing documents in a Hague Convention Member Country should:

  • Contact the local American consulate for an appointment to have the documents notarized. The parties need to inform the consulate in advance that the documents were prepared in the United States to consummate a real estate transaction; or
  • Go to a duly appointed Notary Public of that country, in which case each certificate of acknowledgement of a foreign notary must be authenticated with an Apostille. Apostille is a French word which means "a certification." Apostilles may only be issued by a competent authority designated by the state on whose territory the public document has been executed.

Parties signing documents in a non-member Hague Convention Country should:

  • Contact the local American consulate for an appointment to have the documents notarized. The parties need to inform the consulate in advance that the documents were prepared in the United States to consummate a real estate transaction; or
  • Go to a duly appointed Notary Public of that country, in which case each certificate of acknowledgement of a foreign notary must be authenticated by a judge of a court of the country or from the government agency that regulates notaries in the country in which the acknowledgement was taken. The certification is most often called a Certification of Authentication.

The Certification of Authentication or the Apostille must contain certain information and be of a certain format. The certificate is not an escrow form and is not something the escrow officer should attempt to prepare or provide. Errors in the Certificate of Authentication or Apostille may render the document unacceptable or voidable. The certification should be provided by the issuing office or court.

Apostilles may only be issued by a Competent Authority designated by the State on whose territory the public document has been executed. Visit to find a list of documents that may be Apostilles and a list of Competent Authorities designated by each country.

The signing party will have to bear any expense of the notary services and authentication at the time services are provided. The signing, notarization and authentication process can take additional time, so early planning is essential to ensure an on-time closing and that loan documents and interest rates do not expire.

Oftentimes, due to the formal nature of authentication in foreign countries, the notarized documents will be returned to our offices with brass brads and ribbons attaching the authentication to the signed documents. It is permissible to remove the brads and ribbons on those original documents in order to record the documents with the county recorder's office.

Be sure the manner in which the documents will be signed and notarized is in compliance with any lender requirements pertaining to the signing and notarizations of the documents. Some lenders may have specific requirements and restrictions for the execution of the seller's documents as well as the borrower's. It may be necessary to get written approval from the lender for out-of-country signings. Read the loan closing instructions carefully, and keep in mind the lender cannot authorize a variance from FNF signing procedures, underwriting guidelines or from any legal requirement for documents signed in a foreign country.

Lastly, be familiar with state laws, or in the case of an out-of-state closing, the laws of the state where the property is located. All states have statutes regarding conveyances, and the method of notarization used by the principals must be in compliance with specific state laws.

When in doubt, ask for assistance from your title officer, title underwriter or your National Escrow Administration team. We can be contacted by phone at 888.934.3354 or by e-mail at


Attire Tips-off Escrow Officer to Fake ID

Escrow officer spots a fake driver's license when she notices the presenter wearing the same clothes as shown on the license photograph.

Thuy Tran, a Northern California escrow officer, was presented with a Matrícula Consular at a recent closing. Tran instructed the principal that the identification presented was not acceptable in the State of California and she would not be able to notarize his signature until he could present valid identification.

The principal left her office and returned the next day with a California driver's license. Tran noticed the principal was pictured on the license wearing the same shirt that he had worn to her office the day before. The license felt thicker than her own, which also raised Tran's suspicions.

Tran took the license to her manager, who was able to confirm through the Department of Motor Vehicles the identification was indeed a fake. Tran saved the Company from closing and insuring documents, signed and notarized for a person without valid identification, which could have resulted in future claims and losses.

Moral of the Story
Tran's careful observation and keen senses earned her a $500 reward.