Escrow Officer Jennifer Reinink, at Chicago Title in Las Vegas, opened an escrow for the sale of vacant land. She was in the middle of preparing a letter to send to the address where the property tax bill is sent, when her colleague from another branch interrupted. Her colleague, Chelsea Lopez, was notified by an escrow officer at a competitor that the property was being sold by an imposter.
Jennifer had just opened escrow with the imposter. Chelsea searched the Company's production system and found an order matching the property address that had recently been opened. Jennifer shifted gears.
It turns out, the sales representative in her office knew the real property owners. Jennifer contacted the owners and confirmed their lot was not for sale. During Jennifer's conversation with the true property owners, she discovered the imposter listed both of their vacant lots for sale. The fraudster even posted a "For Sale" sign on one of the lots.
Jennifer sent a notice to the buyer, seller and real estate agents letting them know she was unable to accept the escrow from them. The buyer's real estate agent was relieved that Chicago Title figured out the scam. She is related to the buyers who were paying cash for the lots. She stepped in to help her family after the fraudster called wanting them to pay him cash.
Escrow Administrator Lisa Engelman notified their title manager so he could flag the properties in the title plant system. As soon as the deal fell apart the fraudster posted the lots for sale on Zillow®. The owners contacted Zillow to take the ad down.
According to the true property owner, it appears there is more than one fraudster trying to sell her property, because they presented the following identifications* claiming to be her husband!
This is the latest twist to the fraudsters' scam. They email a copy of their ID to prove they are legitimate, all while telling the escrow officer they are very busy. They demand the closing documents be emailed to them and inform escrow they will use their own notary to acknowledge the documents.
In this example, the property owner confirmed the pictures in the identifications are not her husband and the identifications are counterfeit. The fraudsters have the month and day of her husband's birthday correct, but not the year. The year does not even match on the two counterfeit IDs. The first name on the driver's license is not his legal first name.
The passport is eSigned, which is not acceptable; a wet ink signature is required.
*Redacted to protect the non-public information of the true property owner.
Although Chelsea and the escrow officer she received the information from are competitors — they are also peers. The escrow officer found out about the fraudulent deal because her dad is a real estate agent who took the listing from the seller via email.
The escrow officer's dad never met the seller in person or even talked to him by phone. Once the seller accepted an offer and escrow was processing the sale, they realized the seller was not the actual owner of the property.
The escrow officer, with the permission of the true property owners, reached out to her peers in her local community to alert them. By attending industry events the industry can share information and band together to help minimize these types of fraudulent activities.
Lisa was so proud of her escrow officers for working together to protect the Company from a potential claim of $225,000, that she nominated both Chelsea and Jennifer to split the $1,500 reward.
Do not let your guard down. Unfortunately, the fraudsters have been successful with this scam, so they are ramping up their efforts. The Company's policies and procedures are in place to protect our insured customers. By following them, you will be a hero, too.
Article provided by contributing author:
Diana Hoffman, Corporate Escrow Administrator
Fidelity National Title Group
National Escrow Administration