The following article was first published by the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO). It is being reproduced with permission from RECO.
Buying and selling real estate involves large monetary transactions, so it’s no wonder that fraudsters can be drawn to the real estate world. Real estate fraud can come in many forms.
Here’s what you need to know to:
- Recognize it
- Protect yourself from it
- Report it
Mortgage fraud comes in various forms but it boils down to one thing: tricking a financial institution into lending money when it otherwise wouldn’t.
Sometimes the scam is purely about making a profit for a fraudster; sometimes it’s an effort by someone to buy a house they can’t really afford.
Aside from the societal costs of mortgage fraud (CMHC pay-outs for defaulted loans, police and court costs to deal with offenders, etc.), the fall-out often includes individuals who were talked into participating in a scam, and then find themselves with a mortgage they can’t afford and/or a severely damaged credit rating.
The key is to not get pulled into this sort of scam, and to report it when you see it.
Identity fraud leading to mortgage fraud
In this scam, the fraudster steals the identity of the owner of a property so that they can sell or re-mortgage the property without the home owner’s knowledge. The rightful owner has no idea what has happened until a mortgage lender comes looking for payment or the new home owner tries to move in.
Steps you can take to prevent identity fraud:
- Review credit card, bank and other financial statements on a regular basis.
- Shred or destroy all financial documents before throwing them out.
- Obtain and verify the information in your credit report annually. Your credit report can be obtained through Equifax Canada or TransUnion Canada.
- Never give out personal information over the phone, over email or online, unless you initiated the contact or know who you’re dealing with.
- Pay attention to your billing cycles and contact service providers if your bills don’t arrive on time.
Best defence against fraud
Common sense is your best asset against mortgage fraud. If someone is trying to get you to complete a real estate deal through dishonest means, or without giving you the information you need to make a decision, do not proceed.
Never sign blank documents that could later be filled with falsified information.
Never sign documents without fully reading them and understanding what they mean. Seek independent legal advice if you’re unsure.
Never allow someone else use your name and credit information in exchange for payment.
Never falsify information when applying for a mortgage, including overstating your income to get a mortgage that you can’t really afford.
As with most scams, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.
If you suspect that you or someone you know has been the victim of real estate fraud, please contact your local police department and the Real Estate Council of Ontario. If you would like to submit an anonymous fraud tip, please contact Crime Stoppers.
For more information, visit RECO: Protect yourself against real estate fraud.
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