One Thursday morning, a bank representative contacted one of our branch offices stating a wire transfer in the amount of $309,243.60 had likely been sent to a fraudster's account. The relationship manager at the bank indicated the wire transfer was supposed to credit the account of Don Key, but the account was in the name of Anita Job.
The representative from the bank stated Job had been withdrawing funds from the account every day since the wire was sent, which was a tell–tale sign of fraud.
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The branch office escalated the issue to Lisa Tyler, National Escrow Administrator from Fidelity National Title Group, who spoke to the branch which initiated the wire. The escrow officer at the branch confirmed the funds represented the proceeds to the Seller from the sale of property located at 1234 Adams St., Anytown, USA, and were intended to reach the account of Don, the Seller.
The officer said the wire was sent to the account indicated on the seller's completed disbursement instructions handed to the mobile signing agent prior to closing. Lisa insisted the escrow officer call the seller and confirm the account number, since the writing on the instructions was barely legible.
The escrow officer called a man, who she thought was Don, to verify bank wire information. Whoever she was speaking to said he could see the wire amount in his account and he claimed he held the account jointly with his daughter Anita Job.
The bank then confirmed the account was not a joint account and the account holder was attempting to syphon off all the funds wired to the account. Lisa decided to dig deeper and checked the fair market value for the property; it was worth more than $900,000, but the sale price in this transaction was only $400,000.
As this was looking more and more like a forgery, Lisa asked the accounting center to place a recall on the wire transfer for fraud and asked the bank to restrict the account to prevent Job from withdrawing any more funds. The escrow officer reached out to the mobile signing agent for information on the signing of the closing documents by Don.
The signing agent indicated the signing took place in a remote area, more than an hour outside of the city where the property was located.
Lisa then started steps into locating the real Don Key. First, she contacted the local police in Anytown to perform a welfare check at the property.
The police indicated several welfare checks had been performed over the past two years at that property. The police also indicated it appeared who ever resided in the home left one day to go to the store and never returned. Don's belongings were in the home untouched and the house was locked up.
The next day, Lisa contacted the new lender on the transaction, since a portion of the loan proceeds were used to purchase the property and the balance was to be used to remodel and repair the property. Lisa informed the lender the conveyance deed had been a complete forgery; the buyer truly did not own the property and therefore legally could not sign the deed of trust encumbering the property. Lisa instructed the lender to hold all future draws for construction, as the loan would be paid off in exchange for a release of lien.
Lisa contacted the buyer, Sal A. Mander, a real estate investor who bought distressed properties on a regular basis. This particular property had federal tax liens, past due city property taxes and was scheduled to be sold at a tax sale that same month. The buyer sounded completely surprised when Lisa informed him someone posing as "Don Key" had acted as the seller and forged the deed conveying title.
Lisa asked the buyer if he had ever met the seller. The buyer indicated all communication had been through email and he had never met the seller or even spoken to him on the phone. Sal forwarded all email communication he had with the person posing as "Don Key."
In the meantime, Diana Hoffman, corporate escrow administrator, started calling all the tax collectors, including the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), to request authorization to void the checks issued to them at closing due to fraud.
Diana obtained permission from all except the county tax collector, whose representative indicated the check was already cashed. They agreed to refund the payment once we could prove to them the title to the subject property had been restored in the name of Don Key.
After much diligence, Lisa finally reached the real Don Key, who confirmed his property was not for sale and insisted he never met with a mobile signing agent to sign a deed conveying his property in a remote area of town.
Don demanded copies of all documents containing his forged signature and said he would reach out to the police, as well as his attorney. Lisa assured him the buyer was going to sign a deed restoring title in his name and the lender would release their lien.
The wire transfer in the amount of $309,243.60 was returned to Fidelity National Title short $29,865.45, the amount Job was able to withdraw before the bank froze the account. The deed was prepared and the buyer was requested to come to a nearby branch office to sign it on Monday, just one week after closing. Everyone went home for the weekend and Don continued to call Lisa all weekend with more questions.
Lisa worked with a detective from the Economic Crimes Unit with the Anytown Police Department to discover who was acting as the imposter. During her many conversations with the detective he revealed in a previous forgery case he worked on, the signing was held in a remote area where no cameras would be installed to capture the comings and goings of the imposter, the same thing that had happened in this transaction!
The lender provided its payoff statement, the claims department replaced the missing $29,865.45, as well as the property tax disbursement in the amount of $58,547.02, and the lender was paid in full in exchange for their release of lien.
The buyer executed the deed which was recorded and title was restored to the real Don Key. In addition, the buyer was reimbursed all funds used to purchase the property.
The detective assigned to this case indicated he was going to the bank to review their camera footage of Job, who made the multiple withdraws of the wired funds. He was hopeful the video would reveal her identity and lead him to the imposter. If he does find the imposter, hopefully he or she will be brought to justice and we will have an opportunity to recover some of our losses.