Fraud Scheme Impacting Title — Postscript from California
Posted By USFN, Thursday, February 1, 2018
Updated: Friday, March 16, 2018
February 1, 2018
by Abe Salen
The Wolf Firm
USFN Member (CA)
Fraud has consistently been a silent sword used by borrowers and their agents to stall the foreclosure process and keep the non-paying borrower in the property.
Over the last 18 months, a grand scheme has been uncovered by both federal and state law enforcement in which the borrower is generally a non-participant. Rather, the perpetrating entity conducts a public or semi-private search for properties with loans in foreclosure — often properties that have been in foreclosure for some time (several months to multiple years), but with no record of a sale having occurred. The scheme has reached significant levels in California.
The process is this: once the property is identified, the perpetrating entity begins its fraudulent scheme by recording a bogus assignment. That same day, this entity substitutes in a subsidiary as the foreclosing trustee. Thereafter the “new” trustee immediately (often within 1-3 days) records a Trustee’s Deed Upon Sale, transferring the property to the fraudulent beneficiary. With a recorded transfer in hand, the perpetrating entity sends out private invitations to known REO investors seeking bids for the purchase (at pennies on the dollar) of the subject property. This scheme is “grand” because it encompasses several hundred properties throughout California, with many more suspected — including properties throughout the West Coast and neighboring states, and eastward.
The problems are clear. With the fraudulent recordings occurring so quickly, it may be difficult for servicers and trustees to become aware of the fraudulent cloud on title until a bona fide purchaser is in the mix. Several title companies are now aware of this particular scheme. Further, at least one county has filed criminal charges against the perpetrating entities, with several more jurisdictions conducting in-depth investigations. The FBI is also investigating, and this scheme has gained the attention of numerous media outlets throughout the country.
This situation provides a serious reminder that servicers/trustees must stay vigilant in their due diligence as they begin the foreclosure process, and ensure that the title searches remain current throughout the process. Updating title reports at regular intervals during the process is recommended, especially when files are placed on hold, in order to confirm that title remains unaffected — not just from borrower conduct but also from possible third-party perpetrators.