On a late Friday afternoon, Fidelity National Title Agency's Southern Arizona Oracle Office in Tucson, received a purchase agreement for the sale of vacant land with a purchase price of $225,000. At opening, the listing agent provided a copy of the seller's driver's license.
While opening the transaction, Escrow Assistant Kylie-Jo Bigelow noticed the copy of the driver's license for the seller looked off. The license contained a photo that had a reflection (like a window). The pixelation on the license number, date of birth, sex, height, weight, eyes, hair, name and address looked inconsistent. The license indicated the seller was from Farnam, Nebraska.
Kylie-Jo found a government website that allowed her to put in the given driver's license information to see if the license was "active," which resulted in “the information couldn’t be found." Kylie-Jo enlisted the help of her colleague, Escrow Assistant Wendy Mendivil.
Wendy gathered the recorded deed which reflected "Ricky Sue Racer, a married woman as her sole and separate property," as the owner since 1992. Kylie-Jo and Wendy were caught off guard, because the driver’s license clearly reflected the picture of a middle-aged man and the sex indicated he was a man named "Ricky Barnes Racer."
After bringing all their concerns to Escrow Officer Robyn Anderson’s attention, they asked another colleague, Nicole Helton, to assist in pulling known contact information for the seller to see if it matched the contact information given by the agent. When the research team responded with the information it brought up more red flags, as the contact information did not match what was provided by the agent.
Since it was late in the day, the escrow officer decided to wait until the following Monday to speak to the agent. The Oracle team, however, still sent the Notice of Pending Real Estate Transaction via overnight delivery to the mailing address listed on the county assessor’s page, to ensure the rightful owner was contacted.
On Monday, when the escrow officer reached out to the listing agent, his office requested a hold on the file, as they verified on their end whether or not the purchase agreement was executed by the true owner. Robyn conveyed their office’s findings, and it was agreed that the file would be cancelled.
The following day, Robyn received a call from the actual owner and discussed what happened. Robyn told the owner how her colleagues had become suspicious that the "seller" might be an imposter and how her office sent out the notice as a matter of policy on all vacant land transactions. The owner was grateful to Robyn and her team for informing her of the attempt to sell her property without her knowledge.
In appreciation for the effort put forth by Kylie-Jo Bigelow and her colleague Wendy Mendivil, the Company has rewarded each of them $750 and a letter of recognition from the Company. Sometimes protecting the Company from claims and losses is all–consuming, but in the end, it is worth the effort. Together, their keen senses were able to stop a fraudster right in his tracks!
The Company is encouraging settlement agents to always send the Notice of Pending Real Estate Transaction to the address where the property tax bills are sent. When the subject property is located in a planned community with a homeowner’s association, settlement agents cross check the owner’s mailing address by contacting the association for information on the seller, who is an absentee owner.
Do not stop there. Go one step further and schedule a meeting with the owner via Microsoft® Teams. If the seller is truly an imposter, they will likely decline a request for a face-to-face live meeting where they will have to answer questions about the purchase and sale of the subject property.