REAL ESTATE: Tips to avoid being scammed

From The Press-Enterprise 9/18/14

Avoid-Being-Scammed[1]

Ways homeowners can avoid scam artists who are adding turmoil to the housing market.

The California Bureau of Real Estate has just put out an advisory to help consumers and senior citizens avoid taking the bait on real estate fraud for home loans, rentals, time shares and property recordings.

Many have learned to tear up unsolicited correspondence with official-looking seals to refinance a home loan, take out a loan, find a place to rent or avoid foreclosure.

Through the mortgage meltdown, hundreds upon hundreds of homeowners on the verge of foreclosure became painfully aware real estate schemes were rampant in the Inland region.

But, did you know the state Department of Consumer Affairs has a consumer recovery account for individuals who have been victimized by the intentional fraud of California real estate license holders?

Victims of intentional fraud by a California real estate licensee in connection with their performance, who meet the requirements for payment, can recoup actual and direct losses up to $50,000 per transaction, with a total payout of $250,000 per licensee.

If you have become the victim of real estate fraud, or suspect you have, call the California Bureau of Real Estate at 1-877-373-4542.

To prevent having to make the call, here are 10 fraud avoidance tips:

1) Be vigilant and suspicious of unsolicited offers and calls. Look for and check out license numbers on mailings, websites and all literature.

2) Contact the state and better business bureaus. Ask for references. Search using Google, Yelp or other Internet sites to learn more about the company, its players and determine if they are linked to other consumer scams.

3) Refuse to pay cash for a service, and protect your personal information – especially your social security number.

4) Do not pay for home loan or foreclosure relief services in advance.

5) Never sign an agreement for a real estate transaction you cannot afford.

6) Be suspicious of a real estate agreement or home loan agreement you do not understand or contains blank spaces. Blank spaces allow a scam artist to fill-in-the-blanks of an agreement you already signed.

7) Do not sign your home over to a third party or anyone else who claims such a transfer can and will help you repair your credit or keep you in your home.

8) Never sign a “power of attorney” giving rights to your property or money to any individual or any company you do not personally know or trust.

9) Monitor and periodically check the title to your real estate holdings, as you would your credit reports and act immediately if you detect fraud. A warning bell should sound if you stop getting your property tax bill or notices, get real estate documents in the mail for a transaction you did not make, or if you receive a notice of default on a home you own outright or is current on mortgage payments.

10) If you have a title insurance policy on your property, contact the title company to see if you are protected against forged deeds or fictitious documents recorded after you bought the property. If you become aware of a forged deed in the chain of title to your home, and have a title policy with forgery protection, the title company may be able to help you get the fraudulent deed removed through civil litigation and/or cover costs up to the policy’s covered limits.

The last tip offered is a given: “If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

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