Among the legislative sweep going on in Austin this week is House Bill 2590, a bill which would impose significant penalties on scammers who are claiming vacant houses that don’t belong to them through fraudulent adverse possession claims often known as “squatter’s rights.”
Unfortunately, there are a number of other housing schemes happening around the country right now. With prices on the rise and houses in short supply, the Dallas area could also become a target for these scams.
So what are these scams and how can you protect yourself and your loved ones from becoming a victim? First and foremost, whenever you enter into a real estate transaction, consult a MetroTex REALTOR. Aside from being licensed professionals, REALTORS use standardized contracts which protect both buyers and sellers. Further, REALTORS will advise their clients to use title companies to help ensure that the property is actually owned by the seller without disputes or claims on the title from third parties. If you aren’t sure whether the person selling the house is a REALTOR, you can check for licensee information online at trec.state.tx.us. Remember, the reason we have REALTORS is largely to protect consumers against unscrupulous real estate bandits.
The FBI warns about a number of scams currently being reported across the country. Here’s a run down of the most common schemes and specific steps you can take to protect yourself.
Reverse Mortgage Scams
Reverse Mortgages can be a legitimate option for senior citizens to benefit from equity in their homes without having to move or sell. Legitimate reverse mortgages are insured by the FHA and have specific age, residency and mortgage balance requirements.
Unfortunately, fraudsters are using the legitimate programs as a springboard for some very unscrupulous practices. Basically, they either steal the equity from property of unsuspecting seniors, or use seniors’ good credit and identities to steal equity from other properties. In many cases, people are offered fake foreclosure or refinance help, free homes, or shady investment opportunities.
FBI Tips for Avoiding Reverse Mortgage Scams:
- Do not respond to unsolicited advertisements.
- Be suspicious of anyone claiming that you can own a home with no down payment, unless it is a specifically insured mortgage program, like USDA or VA.
- Do not sign anything that you do not fully understand.
- Do not accept payment from individuals for a home you did not purchase.
- Seek out your own licensed reverse mortgage counselor.
Phony Online Rental Ads
Online ads for finding rentals can lead to consumers losing thousands of dollars and ending up without a place to live. In these scams, people will post a classified ad with a great looking house most often at a relatively low rent. The landlord –who is leaving the country quickly, often for business or on a mission trip - will accept your application and will ask you to wire a couple of month’s rent to his account. But when you show up at the house to move in, the house isn’t available and the owners have nothing to do with your agreement. Not only are you out two months’ rent, you might also find that your identity has been stolen.
FBI Tips to Avoid Rental Scams:
- Only deal with landlords or renters who are local;
- Be suspicious if you’re asked to only use a wire transfer service;
- Beware of e-mail correspondence from the “landlord” that’s written in poor or broken English;
- Research the average rental rates in that area and be suspicious if the rate is significantly lower;
- Don’t agree to accept a larger payment than is needed and refund the remaining balance.
Unfortunately, scammers find a big target in people who are desperate to stay in their homes. Distressed homeowners can be presented with offers that allow them to stay in their homes at half their current mortgage payment so long as they sign over title to their homes and pay an upfront fee. In reality, these schemes are run by people who never pay off the existing loans, instead pocketing the money for themselves and causing the unwitting homeowners to ruin their credit and eventually wind up evicted from their homes.
FTC Tips to Avoid Foreclosure Help Fraud
- Avoid offers that guarantee to get you a loan modification or stop the foreclosure process;
- Only use people who advise you to contact your lender, lawyer, or a housing counselor;
- Deny requests for upfront fees before providing you with any services;
- Do not transfer your property deed or title to others;
- Be suspicious of people who only accept payments by cashier’s check or wire transfer
- Don’t sign anything you haven’t read or don’t understand.
This scam is a variation of the adverse possession schemes being addressed by the Texas Legislature. Basically, scammers steal your identity, forge sales documents and register deed transfer paperwork with the county. Then they claim to own the house and sell it. This often happens with unoccupied or vacation homes. Untangling this mess can be costly and difficult.
Avoid House Stealing
- Check your property records. When you get your tax bill for the year, verify information pertaining to your property. If you see any changes to title or names you don’t recognize, ask for more information from the deeds office.
- If you receive correspondence or a payment book from a mortgage company that’s not yours, whether your name is on the envelope or not, don’t throw it away. Read it and if seems suspicious or you don’t understand what it means, follow up with the company that sent it.
For more information on buying or selling a home in Texas, visit dfwrealestate.com