For many, owning a home or piece of real estate is a dream come true. It is generally the single most important and largest investment we make in our lifetime. We take out mortgages which we have to repay over a very lengthy period of time, sometimes up to 30 years. For the lucky few, they would have been gifted their real estate through a will from a family member or friend.
But all this can be lost in the twinkling of an eye by unscrupulous members of the society who seek easy wealth on the backs of those of us who were gifted or through toil and long work achieved our dreams.
In Brooklyn as real estate values have dramatically increased, so too has mortgage fraud, deed theft and foreclosure rescue scams. Many unsuspecting home owners have lost their properties to criminals who run these kinds of schemes. Real estate and mortgage fraud have become top legal issues after the foreclosure and financial crisis of 2008. Because many including politicians and public officials have blamed the economic collapse on shady mortgage dealings, there has been tremendous pressure to fight mortgage and real estate fraud and to aggressively prosecute those suspected of committing these offenses.
“Rising property values in Brooklyn make homeowners, especially the elderly, the target of unscrupulous predators trying to steal their homes from under them,” District Attorney, Eric Gonzalez said. “I urge all homeowners to be especially careful about signing documents relating to their property without trusted legal advice.”
According to Richard Farrell, assistant district attorney with the Real Estate Fraud Unit in Brooklyn, “Dating back to 2000, we’ve had 1,000 referrals for real estate fraud. And we see a disproportionate number of cases involving seniors as victims.” Two areas have been identified as having the highest number of fraud cases in Brooklyn, namely Crown Heights and Bedford Stuyvesant and according to Farrell there has been an increase in East New York. The main types of real estate fraud are Deed theft — When someone tricks you into signing away your property away to another party; Mortgage Fraud — When a buyer gets financing via identity theft or forgery of mortgage documents; Foreclosure rescue scams — A group of related actions, including upfront fees for loan modification or some other outcome.
Several steps can be taken to protect one-self from becoming a fraud victim. According to Farrell, you can request that the Department of Finance, which oversees the NYC Register, send an alert any time a new document is filed against the homeowner’s property by either completing and submitting a Notice by Mail of Recorded Document form or by registering on the Automated City Register Information System or ACRIS .
It is important to guard your personal information and watch your mail. If a bill does not arrive find out why. It is also wise to maintain your property and do not allow it to become dilapidated.
We call on all lending institutions to provide more information to clients on how to protect their investments. We would like to recognize the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office and other organizations such as Neighborhood Housing Services Brooklyn office for their ongoing commitment to protecting homeowners in Brooklyn.