Monday, October 30, 2006

Identity Theft Ring Operates in Florida

Identity theft ring targets real property
MIAMI -- Oct. 25, 2006 -- For the last few months an identity theft ring has been targeting property owners, mortgage lenders and the title insurance industry -- an international scheme in that many of the suspects appear to be of Eastern European origin and much of the stolen money is being wired to accounts in Greece, the Slovak Republic, Russia, Latvia and elsewhere.

The scheme involves absentee-owned property and includes both vacant land and improved residential and commercial properties. In most of the cases reported, the true owners reside outside Florida. Additionally, in some of the cases, the properties are listed for sale through the local Multiple Listing Service (MLS).

"This involves millions and millions of dollars, and it's all over the state -- not just South Florida," says Doug Pollock, 
President and Founder of Information Data Services, Inc.IDS, (http://www.idsnetwork.com) which serves the legal, corporate, title insurance and mortgage lending industry.

The refinance scheme

The perpetrators assume the identity of the real property owner and obtain a physical mailing address (always a "mail drop location") in the community near the residence of the real property owner. They then contact a mortgage broker or lender as well as a title agent to originate and close a new refinance mortgage loan using the identity of the real owner. In most cases, the properties are owned free and clear of any liens or mortgages of record.

After receiving loan approval from a mortgage lender, the perpetrator then contacts the title agent and requests that they either transmit the closing documents to one of the Internet's free e-mail addresses or the mail drop address. After the executed closing documents have been returned to the title agent, the perpetrator provides written instructions for the agent to wire the loan proceeds to bank accounts held outside the United States, mostly in Eastern European countries.

The foreign banks accounts were previously opened based on fraudulent identification, and shortly after funds are deposited, they're withdrawn in cash.

Many times, the perpetrators attempt to defraud more than one lender using the same property as collateral. A different title agent is used for this second loan; and both closings must occur at almost the same time so neither settlement agent is aware of the other closing until after the funds have been disbursed and the money has left the country.

Similar characteristics of Florida cases

1. All contact with the perpetrators is by telephone or e-mail. There is no personal contact. They will refuse to attend a closing or come by the office to pick up a check.
2. They require the settlement agent to execute a letter agreeing that they will wire the proceeds from the closing to bank accounts held outside the United States.
3. All contact addresses provided are " mail drop box" locations.
4. All telephone numbers provided are pre-paid cell phones and are untraceable.
5. All identification provided are fraudulent driver’s licenses and do not bear the likeness or resemblance to the identity theft victim.
6. The proceeds from each of the closings exceed $300,000.

Source: Information Data Services Inc.
© 2006 FLORIDA ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

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