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Marsha, my elderly mother has owned her home in Santa Barbara for decades.  Ten years ago she took out an equity loan for needed repairs on the house. She’s current with her payments and isn’t struggling. Recently she’s been receiving phone calls from a gentleman who claims there is a government program that forgives second mortgages for seniors. He’s pressing to meet and have her sign documents to get the process started. It sounds like a scam to me, but she won’t stop talking to him because “he’s so nice.” What do you think?


Yes it sounds like a predatory scam on an elderly person. Real estate confidence games and fraud are a fact of life and are always with us. Remember the Brooklyn Bridge scam? Early European immigrants were conned into purchasing public property. Why is real estate subject to so many schemes and scams? It’s where the money is! It’s the same reason there’s stock market and bank fraud. With email, the internet and electronic banking the methods have evolved; but their objective is always to separate you from your money or property.

The man speaking to your mother is probably planning a loan modification fraud. These shysters target seniors and people they believe are experiencing trouble with their loans. I strongly suspect the document she would be signing is the grant deed giving Mr. Helpful control and ownership of her property. You should contact the police.

Just as stock market and investment fraud ranges from penny stock cons to multi-billion dollar Bernie Madoff Ponzi schemes, scams in real estate vary from mortgage fraud to sophisticated six and seven figure criminal activity. Real estate deceit is limitless.

New frauds are constantly being developed and employed by the bad guys. Just as a gambit is discovered and consumers are warned another one pops up. One of the latest criminal real estate ruses involves cyber-criminals hacking into real estate agents’ email accounts and phishing. Phishing is when a criminal tries to trick someone into giving them secure information, like passwords or account numbers, by posing as a legitimate entity.

By hacking into a real estate agent’s email, the criminals are able learn the buyers’ names, what escrow and title company is being used and when the closing date is for the home purchase. They monitor the escrow and at the right time send false wiring instructions to the buyers. The buyers think they’re wiring their settlement money into escrow when in fact it’s going to a hacker’s off-shore account. Buyers should always verify when they receive emails with a change of instructions from the escrow company or their real estate agent.

Never believe you’re too smart or educated to be deceived. Just by being aware and alert, you will stop most real estate scams. Remember if it sounds too good to be true…

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