Vietnamese Imposters

By Lisa A. Tyler
National Escrow Administrator

Wow! We've shared some stories of bold moves by criminals in previous editions of Fraud Insights, but the actions taken by the imposters in this edition are unbelievable. One of the imposters must have had nerves of steel to pull off a heist where he nearly made off with $226,000. Read all about it in the lead article entitled "Vietnamese Imposters."

The best defense is a good offense – and the story entitled "Vigilantes" explains how Alamo Title employees went on the offense to vet out a potential customer they felt might have been less than honest. The Alamo employees all had an uneasy feeling about a potential customer's constant presence in their office. Rather than sit back and wait for him to open fraudulent transactions, they uncovered the truth about his business practices and kicked him to the curb.

If your office has a similar story to share, please e-mail the details to If the story is published in a future edition of Fraud Insights your entire office will receive $1,000 to pay for a dinner, pizza party or month-end lunch. A cool grand can go a long way in feeding the starving staff at an escrow branch!




Vietnamese Imposters

Two incidents have recently occurred in Southern California markets involving Vietnamese imposters. Both resulted in the imposter using an unwitting owner's property as collateral for a cash-out loan.

First Incident
A cash-out refinance was opened with Chicago Title's San Clemente, Calif. office by a mortgage broker. The borrower in the transaction was Hung Huang, who owned the property free and clear of any encumbrances. When the loan documents arrived, the escrow officer made arrangements to have Mr. Huang meet with an approved notary, and scheduled a 3 p.m. signing appointment at Mr. Huang's downtown Los Angeles office. At the last minute, however, Mr. Huang changed the appointment to 7 p.m. at the restaurant located at the top of the office building. The mobile notary conducted the signing appointment and sent the executed documents back to escrow.

The new lender funded, the loan closed and the escrow officer wired $226,000 to Mr. Huang's bank account. Little did she know Mr. Huang was an imposter!

After close of escrow it was discovered the imposter had walked into a bank to open a checking account for the escrow officer to wire the loan proceeds. The bank teller asked for his identification and social security number. When he presented his identification to the bank teller she photocopied it and informed him he already had an account with the branch. Mr. Huang clearly had identification in the name of Hung Huang, but the picture the bank had on file for the account holder didn't match the man standing in front of the teller. This Mr. Huang was an imposter! The imposter became irritated and uncomfortable, and walked out of the branch.

He then went to a branch of Bank of America and successfully opened a checking account, which would be the account where the $226,000 wire was sent. In the meantime, the teller at the first bank contacted the real Mr. Hung Huang to inform him his identity had been stolen. Purely by coincidence, the imposter had come to a bank where Mr. Huang already had an account, complete with a photo ID on file. Otherwise the imposter might never have been discovered.

The real Mr. Huang checked his credit report and saw inquiries from the lender who made the loan to the imposter. He contacted the lender to ensure they knew the borrower was an imposter. The real Mr. Huang then contacted our corporate headquarters to ensure we knew the borrower on the new loan was an imposter and to remove the new deed of trust encumbering his property from his title.

Upon hearing this information, the compliance officer with FNF's corporate headquarters had Western Region Underwriting issue a bulletin alerting all offices to the fraud involving the real Mr. Huang's property. The Ticor Title office in San Diego saw the bulletin and noticed they had an inactive order opened on the subject property. The title officer performed a date down and discovered a recently recorded deed of trust, which they reported to the underwriting department. The underwriting department found the transaction had closed at Chicago Title's San Clemente office. The underwriter contacted the San Clemente escrow officer who informed them the file had indeed closed and a wire in the amount of $226,000 was sent to Bank of America in Mr. Huang's name just the previous day. FNF's banking administrator worked with Bank of America to freeze the imposter's account.

Unfortunately, Bank of America was only able to freeze $60,000 of the $226,000. The fraudsters had already drained most of the account. We are now processing this matter through the claims department. The claims department is paying off the loan in order to reconvey the deed of trust encumbering Mr. Huang's property.


Second Incident
We were not lucky enough to recover even $60,000 in another incident with the same characteristics. In this incident the imposter was discovered only after the loan went to foreclosure and the real owner nearly lost her property.

Sydney Chiou purchased her property in 2010 for $569,000 in cash – no loan. Approximately five months later a man, using Sydney's identification, opened two bank accounts in her name at Nara Bank and Chase Bank.

The imposter then worked with a broker to find a hard money lender to loan him $325,000 using Sydney's property as the collateral. The transaction closed at Fidelity National Title in San Diego. The documents, however, were signed outside of the office with a mobile signing company. The claims officer investigating this transaction wondered how a man pulled off the signing using Sydney's identification, since Sydney clearly held title as a single woman.

The claims officer contacted the notary who pulled her journal and confirmed she had met with a woman who produced identification as Sydney Chiou. The notary stated the signing appointment was conducted at a local restaurant and the alleged borrower was accompanied by a man. The notary specifically remembered this signing appointment, because the woman refused to speak to the notary even though it was clear she understood English. And, when the notary requested the alleged borrower complete a Statement of Information she reluctantly completed it and misspelled her own name!

At closing, $140,000 was wired to Nara Bank and $156,176.47 (the balance of the proceeds) wired to Chase Bank. Months later, when the new lender received no payments on their new loan, they contacted the property owner – the real Sydney Chiou – who discovered her identity had been stolen in order to perpetrate this fraud.

The lender and the property owner have made claims against Fidelity National Title. The owner claims we should not have encumbered her property and wants the lien removed. The lender has claimed a forgery which is afforded protection under their loan policy. The claims officer has been working closely with the banks and local law enforcement to catch the thief and recover the loan proceeds, but the thief instantly drained the funds in both banks after closing.

Moral Of The Story
The similarities between the two incidents included:

  • Borrower was of Vietnamese or Taiwanese decent
  • Property was owned free from liens and encumbrances
  • The borrower sought to obtain a high-interest/short-term loan
  • The lender was a hard money lender
  • The transaction involved a broker
  • The borrower requested to sign documents at an off-site location (knowing that it would be harder to photocopy or authenticate the driver's license or other forms of identification making the notarization process rushed or manipulated)

Any transaction involving the above traits should be reviewed by management prior to closing to ensure the same scam is not attempted against our Company for a third time.




Employees at our New Braunfels, Texas office of Alamo Title felt uneasy about a potential customer. Rather than ignore their instincts they decided to follow them. They turned to the Internet and found out their instincts were right when they found a blog about the man. The blog was started by a vigilante clearly out to get justice for the bad business dealings with this man. The blog had almost 50 entries detailing one bad experience after another. This group of vigilantes had nothing nice to say about him. Read on to find out what it said…

In late March 2011, a gentleman went into Alamo Title stating he was a land developer and builder who was new in town and looking to align himself with a reliable title company. He also asked for a list of real estate agents who could help him find properties to buy. Kimberly Freeman, the manager, gave him a list. He immediately contacted the first agent on the list, who began showing the developer properties in the area.

The man came by the office on a regular basis, saying he rented office space in the same building. He also said he was operating under an LLC named Selma Development Partners. He requested plat maps and restrictions on properties he was considering buying. Each time he came in he felt it necessary to tell the entire staff of his many accomplishments as a builder, bragging about the multi-million dollar projects he developed in several other states. This went on for nearly a month but no one was impressed.

Next, the office found out he was working with several real estate agents, two of whom worked right in the same building as Alamo Title. He told them Alamo Title was his preferred title company. Kimberly thought this was peculiar since he had yet to open an escrow with her office. The rest of the staff, Kay MacDonald, Shanna Hicks and Laurie Coleman, told Kimberly they had an uneasy feeling about him and couldn't understand why he felt the need to brag and spend so much time in their office. They wondered when he was going to actually buy something. Everyone felt as if they were being buttered up for something.

Kimberly knew she needed to find a professional way to call this man's bluff, so she decided to share her office's concerns with her County Manager, Eddie Hall. Collectively they implemented a plan to push him for information. They asked him for copies of his partnership papers and for a copy of his driver's license under the guise they were building his file. He never produced either of these items and his visits to the office started to dwindle. They checked with the real estate agents he was working with and still there were no offers to purchase any of the properties they had shown him. Since he bragged about his many other large land developments, the office decided to turn to the Internet to search his accomplishments.

They entered his name in the Google™ search engine and found a Website. The URL was his name! The home page was entitled Buyer Beware!, and consisted of a blog with nearly 50 entries from people who had nothing good to say. Here are some excerpts:

 "He gets where he is in life by pretending to be someone he's not. He purports to be a high-dollar home builder/developer. He never operates in small numbers – he submits multi-million dollar real estate offers, hires people at ridiculously inflated salaries and as a result, people think they've stumbled upon a wealthy, though eccentric developer. He sucks you in through promises of great profit, but soon you will find yourself driving him everywhere and paying for his every meal."

"When the real estate contracts mature and he can't close, when the staff quit because they haven't been paid, when the architects and Website designers move on, this doesn't bother him. He just opens new LLCs and starts all over again in a different state."

"He supports himself first and foremost by living off of other people. He is very resourceful and not at all particular – he will use whatever he can, be it your money, time or effort. He also routinely takes money from anyone he can under the auspices of being a home builder. During the time I knew him he never built a single home."

"I am one of many who provided real estate services based on the hope of a huge commission. He lures you in by submitting multi-million dollar offers on land. Even though you're not making any money, you continue being devoted to the cause convinced it will have a huge payoff. You involve all of your work associates – realtors, title companies, appraisers, builders – and this is exactly how he plans for it to work. Only after he has won your loyalty and ambition, and you have persuaded everyone else to jump on board, does he reveal that he can't close ANY transactions unless you bring him qualified buyers. (It's called 'presales' – and he conveniently failed to mention this until now!) By then you've put in so much time that you begin desperately looking for buyers. If you happen to find one – he will then take their cash deposit making you look unethical. In my situation he had financing in place if there were end buyers. He asked me to have friends pretend to be buyers, and put 'phony deposits' which would then be refunded. Glad I saw the light before I brought them in! They would have blamed me for having thousands of dollars stolen. I am happy to return to my humble job of brokering loans…"

"After I realized that he would never pay for the services that I had provided, I checked into his background. He told me that he had graduated from two separate universities. Neither of the schools had ever heard of him. I think that his entire background is made up."

One of the bloggers is an agent with the FBI. Look at this post:

 "If anyone in Texas has any complaints to file against the individual mentioned in these posts, please feel free to contact:

Intelligence Analyst Shanna Wayhan
FBI – San Antonio
T: 210.650.6251

After finding this Website, Eddie contacted Bobbye Harris, Underwriting Counsel. Bobbye contacted the FBI. The FBI told Bobbye they were aware of his whereabouts. It sounded like the vigilantes who commented on the blog might see justice served.

Needless to say, Alamo Title told this gentleman they would not do business with him. They also shared the Website with some of the real estate agents who were working with him.

The New Braunfels office has been rewarded $1,000 for cutting off a customer who was abusing our services and wasting the staff's time. The staff trusted their instincts, followed through with an investigation and then confronted the customer face-to-face.

Moral Of The Story
It is unusual for a random stranger to simply walk into one of our offices and immediately start doing business with us. We have sales representatives who work very hard to bring in new customers. Fraudsters regularly target our Companies since we have such a reputable name in the industry and this lends credibility to their scheme. In this case the man purported to real estate agents he had a relationship with Alamo Title Company.

Fortunately the office did not ignore their instincts and found out, sooner rather than later, he is not the type of customer with whom we want to align ourselves – and notified their customers of their findings.