An elderly customer, born in 1943, was selling his home and came to Elizabeth Garcia's office in Kingman, Arizona, to finalize the transaction. Elizabeth had concerns about the seller's competency, since she had received several phone calls from family members of the customer.
The family insisted the elderly customer had been sending money to scammers pretending to be a national giveaway company. They were concerned that with the sale of his home the customer would only send more money to the scammer. However, the customer would not listen to his family and insisted on following through with the sale.
Elizabeth questioned the seller about the details of the transaction. The customer seemed competent. He knew what year it was, who the president was, and — on the surface — was generally cognizant and competent to sign.
Elizabeth pressed further, concerned by the red flags the customer's family had raised. She questioned the seller about why he was selling his home and how he was going to use the proceeds from the sale. His answer confirmed the suspicions of the customer's family, although not explicitly. He stated he was selling his property to raise money to send to his "friends" — so ultimately he could earn a big payout they were promising.
Armed with this knowledge, Elizabeth decided not to proceed with the closing — even over the seller's objections. Fortunately, the elderly customer's family stepped in after Elizabeth refused to complete the transaction.
The family petitioned the court for an Order of Temporary Guardianship over the elderly customer — which was granted. The petition claimed the customer had been promised $6.5 million in winnings after first sending thousands of dollars to the scammers. The sale of his home would have been the last step, as he had already placed liens on vehicles. His home was his only remaining asset.
Walking away from a transaction can be difficult. However, in situations such as these there is not only a professional obligation but a personal one to resign. Personally, no settlement agent looks to assist with a real estate transaction that ultimately hurts the consumer.
Professionally, the Company insures each and every transaction which may lead to costly claims. When presented with red flags, as Elizabeth was, ask the questions and talk with your customers. For her efforts, Elizabeth has been awarded $1,500 and a letter of recognition from the Company.
Article provided by contributing author:
Scott Cummins, Advisory Director
Fidelity National Title Group
National Escrow Administration