Fraud Insights

Fraud Insightsimg

Lisa A.Tyler Bio

Publisher: Fidelity National Financial. Editor: Lisa A.Tyler | National Escrow Administrator


February 2024

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A real estate agent hired a landscaper she had never met. He performed the work on a listed property, and she paid him by check. Find out how he swindled her in the article aptly named “DUPLICATE check cashing.”…
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A real estate agent recently started out the day with a visit to her bank due to a collections letter she received from a check cashing center in her hometown. Someone she hired to perform landscaping…
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In a recent commercial transaction, an initial deposit in the amount of $90,000 was received. Under the terms of the agreement $50,000 was released to the seller prior to closing. The buyer did not perform…
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All-Stars are highly effective and productive individuals. They are often self-starters, who are trustworthy, compassionate and demonstrate a high standard of conduct. They are tenacious and possess…
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January 2024

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What is ID Data Verification? Simply put, identity data verification is an effort to establish data accuracy. It is the process of confirming the integrity and consistency of the data.Verification involves checking data against a set…
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Recent trends in real estate fraud have made it imperative to authenticate the identity of your sellers to ensure you know exactly with whom you are conducting business. Instances of fraudsters impersonating…
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It sounds odd that a signing pen could save a life, but it is the story shared by one of the Company’s best and brightest escrow officers. Her story reads like this…
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All-Stars are highly effective and productive individuals. They are often self-starters, who are trustworthy, compassionate and demonstrate a high standard of conduct. They possess the ability to work with…
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December 2023

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The absentee owner and seller imposter scams do not just affect individual owners of residential properties, it affects entities owning all types of properties, including agricultural land. Discover how a religious ministry…

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Many real estate investors refer to themselves as wholesalers. These are individuals who find properties to purchase. They enter into a purchase agreement, but prior to closing find a different buyer…

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At a title company around the corner, an escrow officer received an email from an unknown party requesting escrow and title services. The email had been sent on Sunday morning and reviewed by the escrow officer…

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Remember, the receipt of “cash” instruments for deposit does not automatically mean the remitter of the funds is participating in illegal activity. There are legitimate reasons the remitter may be making…

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November 2023

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Real estate scams are on the rise. Property owners of vacant lots or homes which are not their primary residence are the targets. The scheme works like this, a fraudster identifies a property by looking for...

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The Fidelity National Title Group works very hard to help prevent fraud from occurring. There are some steps vacant land and non-owner-occupied property owners can take to protect themselves…

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A consumer in Glendora, California, received a check from a title company in Texas in the amount of $2,850.25 via overnight delivery, along with this enclosed letter encouraging him to become a "secret shopper"…

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During the last 11 months we have covered what constitutes cash and when it needs to be reported. We review what we have covered with one last quiz to see how much you learned. Don’t worry we have provided the answers…

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October 2023

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Absentee owner scams have become a real estate epidemic! Absentee owners of real property are the target of criminals who pose as the owner offering the home. These imposters…
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At a title company around the corner, a cash-out loan transaction was opened by a local hard money (non-institutional) lender in the amount of $1 million. The lender was a trust…

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Liberty Title & Escrow in Virginia Beach, Virginia, worked as the title company for the buyer on a transaction where the seller was represented by a law firm…
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As mentioned in the September 2023 edition, Form 8300 is made up of four parts. Refer to the form’s instructions to ensure it is completed…

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September 2023

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Property theft from absentee-owners continues to be a problem. The syndicates attempting to commit this crime learn from each success and failure, then modify their scheme. They have learned the title industry…
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Kerry McCall, Escrow Officer with Chicago Title Inland Empire, received an order for the sale of a vacant lot for $65,000. Upon receipt of the order, Kerry pulled the owner’s address where the tax bill is mailed and sent …

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Denise McCormick, Senior Escrow Officer with Ticor Title Company, closed a sale wherein the seller asked Denise to transfer his sales proceeds to an independent escrow company to fund the purchase of an investment…
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IRS Form 8300 is completed by the receiver of the “cash,” not the remitter…

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August 2023

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The phrase “TRUST but verify” became popular in the United States when former President Ronald Reagan used the saying while working on nuclear disarmament with the Soviet Union. As it turns out, it has Russian roots and is considered…
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The borrowers, Owen Big and Penny Less, needed to consolidate some of their debt. Penny failed to pay her income taxes and Owen defaulted on a credit card. The IRS had levied their property and a creditor had a judgment, which was…
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If you are traveling and your battery is running low, be aware that juicing up your electronic device at public USB port charging stations found in airports, hotel lobbies and elsewhere, could cause you to become a victim of…
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It is true, some settlement agents have access to and know how to complete the blanks in a deed template. However, that does not give them approval to prepare deeds for any and all reasons…
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Settlement agents must file Form 8300 upon receipt of multiple “cash” items received in one transaction. The multiple payments may have been received at one time or over the course of the transaction. When working on a file…
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July 2023

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We have been reporting regularly about the absentee owner scam and regulators nationwide are now distributing Advisory Messages to the real estate industry, specifically real estate agents, making them aware of…
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On a late Friday afternoon, Fidelity National Title Agency’s Southern Arizona Oracle Office in Tucson, received a purchase agreement for the sale of vacant land with a purchase price of $225,000. At opening…
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A title company in New York City was handling a sale transaction in the amount of $3,715,000. The Seller sent her attorney bank wire instructions for the sale proceeds on May 2, 2023. The instructions directed…
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Settlement agents who receive coins or currency that exceed $10,000 must report the deposit. Regardless of whether the deposit of the currency is made piecemeal or all at once, as soon as total currency deposited by the person....
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May 2023

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Recently enacted regulations to the Corporate Transparency Act (CTA) will require companies to report their beneficial owners, similar to the information collected under the Real Estate Geographic Targeting Order (GTO) issued by FinCEN. Will the …
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It is no surprise, efforts to peel back the layers of entities to identify the ultimate owners are critical in the effort to intercept and stop money laundering and illicit activity. FinCEN, through a Geographic Targeting Order (GTO), looked to create…
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Escrow Officer Kim Rafael and Escrow Assistant Liz Manges from Fidelity's Napa, California office, received a For Sale by Owner (FSBO) order on property in Southern California. The order was opened by the buyer …
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The Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) was enacted to help combat money laundering through the requirement of reporting cash transactions exceeding $10,000. In order to avoid assisting in money laundering or other fraudulent activities, it is important to…
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April 2023

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Squatting is the action of occupying an abandoned or unoccupied area of land or a building, usually residential, that the squatter does not own, rent or otherwise have lawful permission to use. Read the article titled "SQUATTERS" for the scary details…
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Parents purchased a property in La Quinta, California, for their son and wife to live in while they worked as professors at a nearby college. The son and his wife lived in the home for years but moved when they were offered higher paying positions in…
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Escrow Officer Jennifer Reinink, at Chicago Title in Las Vegas, opened an escrow for the sale of vacant land. She was in the middle of preparing a letter to send to the address where the property tax bill is sent, when her colleague from another branch…
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As we described in the March 2023 issue, when the money launderer reaches the integration stage, the shell entities provide the means to clean the money and conceal the identity of the individual making the purchase, which integrates the funds…
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March 2023

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We have been discussing real estate scams involving vacant properties for years, including sharing tips and tricks on how to prevent fraud from occurring in transactions insured by the Company. Read about the alert recently issued by the …
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The U.S. Secret Service has recently observed a sharp increase in reports of real estate fraud associated with vacant and unencumbered property. Criminals are impersonating real property owners and negotiating the sale…
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In January 2023, the FBI revealed it had secretly hacked and disrupted an international ransomware gang called "Hive." Hive was one of the most prolific cybercriminal groups that extorted businesses by encrypting their data …
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Don Escusa, Payoff Processor for Lawyers Title Company in Burbank, California, was preparing to pay off a loan to clear title. The loan servicer on the loan was Freedom Mortgage. He reviewed the demand and verified it was a loan secured against the…
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There are many different methods a money launderer may use to clean money but in all instances, there are three steps to the process. Those steps are…
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February 2023

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An excerpt from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI’s) 2022 Congressional Report on Business Email Compromise (BEC) and Real Estate Wire Fraud reveals a recommendation to change the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) governing the banking industry to prevent wire fraud. The much-needed recommendation is contained in the article titled “UNIFORM commercial code issue.”
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Since 2013, the FBI has led the charge against Business Email Compromise (BEC) and money mule threat actors and remains on the forefront of tackling these crimes. The FBI states it will proudly continue to lead the U.S. Government’s efforts to combat these threats by educating employees, the public, and private and public sector partners.
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Toward the end of November 2022, Escrow Officer Michelle Polk, from Fidelity National Title Company in San Bernardino, California, scheduled an appointment with a buyer to open escrow. He and his wife negotiated a deal to buy their neighbor’s home.
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Escrow Assistant Kali Asencio, with Chicago Title in San Antonio, was working on a transaction that opened in her office for the sale of a vacant lot. The transaction opened on Monday, December 5, 2022, and was scheduled to close Friday, December 9, 2022.
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Criminals and criminal syndicates regularly utilize the services of professional money launderers to assist them in “cleaning” money. These are individuals or organizations who do not participate in the crimes which resulted in the illegal proceeds. They only launder the money for a fee. They are typically paid a commission or percentage from the funds they clean.
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January 2023

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This edition contains stories from three heroic colleagues who saved the Company from potential losses and claims.…
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Neil Viner, Title Officer with Lawyers Title Company in Burbank, California, received an order for an owner's title policy regarding the sale of a home for $470,000 from an independent escrow officer he works with regularly. He performed the title search and…
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Marnae Ballantyne, Escrow Manager, Fidelity National Title Agency of Utah in American Fork, Utah, opened a sale of a vacant lot for $385,000. The buyer was a real estate investor paying cash. He never met the seller…
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Michelle Lopez, an extraordinary escrow officer for Chicago Title Company's Glendale, California office, was working on a refinance. The new loan amount was $355,000. She ordered the payoff demand, sent it off to the loan officer and set the file aside for…
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In recent years, various governmental entities believe they have identified vulnerabilities in the purchase and sale of U.S. real property, which makes it possible for criminals to take advantage of real estate money-laundering…
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December 2022

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The best thing about claims and losses is they offer a learning opportunity for others. Learning from other people's mistakes is so much better than learning hard lessons from your own mistakes. Take the time to read "WHAT not to do" to learn several lessons…
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A title company around the corner was handling a refinance. They received a loan payoff statement from the new funding lender on an existing private loan. The new funding lender emailed the payoff statement with bank wire instructions for the existing…
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With the increase in interest rates our customers are asking settlement agents nationwide about creative financing options. In many cases, the Company can close and insure these types of transactions with some limitations. First, we define these…
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One of the most widely read editions of Fraud Insights this year was the March edition where we shared frequently asked questions from the Company's nationwide network of settlement agents. Below are all new questions from the settlement agents and all new…
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A watering hole attack is one of the most dangerous because the risk is hidden within an otherwise legitimate website. Hackers identify websites visited the most by their intended victims…
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November 2022

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The city of Philadelphia's records department has made its free Deed Fraud Guard service available to homeowners and commissioned notaries. This effort continues the record department's efforts to fight deed fraud and protect families'…
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Since 2019, Philadelphia homeowners have been able to sign up for Deed Fraud Guard, Philadelphia's free email alert service. This service sends the subscriber an email notification if their name appears in any document, such as a deed or mortgage…
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The Federal Housing Finance Agency's (FHFA) Equitable Housing Finance Plans announced earlier this year are aimed at lowering closing costs and making home ownership more accessible for low- to moderate- income and minority homebuyers…
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The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) collects reports of internet crime from victims. IC3's recovery asset team then assists in freezing accounts to recover hundreds of thousands of dollars for victims of the diverted wire transfer scam…
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The U.S. Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network's (FinCEN) financial trend analysis noted that ransomware filings in the first six months of 2021 exceeded the total of all filings in 2020. Their analysis says, "In 2020, the IC3 received 2,474 complaints…
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October 2022

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In Arizona, the title department works with all operations and brands across the state as a central processing facility. The Company has very talented title professionals searching titles and ensuring the Company's underwriting policies are adhered to. They work closely with…
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Eight sale transactions were opened at different closing locations throughout the state of Arizona, so none of the offices knew of the other transactions being processed. The documents were supposedly signed in South Africa in front of a duly authorized notary…
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Money orders issued by the United States Postal Service (USPS) are considered good funds the day after they have been deposited, unless they are fraudulent. Settlement agents who receive a USPS issued money order must review each instrument carefully. The USPS…
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Even when title companies are not the direct targets of ransomware, these attacks can have significant downstream impacts on our industry. Last year, Cloudstar — a provider of IT security solutions and cloud hosting services — was one of many companies that…
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September 2022

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This newsletter is regularly shared with FNF's customers who are, in large part, real estate agents. The National Association of REALTORS® has designated September as safety awareness month. In light of that, we are sharing our "7 safety tips for brand new agents"…
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While you have probably thought about many of the aspects of practicing real estate, the one you should start with is your personal safety. Here is how to stay safer as you go about your daily activities…
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Lisa Williams, closing coordinator for ServiceLink in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, was processing a cash-out loan. The property being used as collateral for the loan is in North Carolina and held in a life estate for two minor…
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Here are a few tips to protect against a ransomware attack. Keep in mind this list only scratches the surface…
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August 2022

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When Fraud Insights was launched in January 2006, we thought we would run out of content at some point. Here we are 200 issues later with more content than we can publish. As claims awareness and prevention are a top priority for the…
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This publication has written at least seven stories regarding the dangers of closing and insuring non-owner-occupied properties. All the articles expressed the dangers of properties that are not owner-occupied. Any time a vacant…
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Uninsured deeds are always a cause for concern. Recently one of our commercial escrow officers was working on the sale of vacant land. The buyer was purchasing the property to develop into multifamily housing. The sale was…
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Cryptocurrency is a digital currency in which transactions are verified and records maintained by a decentralized system using cryptography, rather than by a centralized authority…
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July 2022

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The Company is traded on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). Being traded on the stock exchange means the Company is held to the highest standards and must ensure we have proper measures in place to protect Company funds…
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All out-going wires sent from the Company's escrow trust accounts must be approved by two authorized bank signers before they are sent to the Operational Accounting Center (OAC). The OAC requires two more approvers to review the wire…
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Chicago Title Company opened a sale transaction involving a tract of vacant land not far from downtown Austin. The tract is located in a desirable part of Austin where there are very few vacant tracts of land. The purchase contract…
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The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) has put together a comprehensive website which contains tools for victims. One of these tools is a Ransomware Guide…
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June 2022

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The seller came in person to the Chicago Title office to pick up his proceeds check. He was asked for identification; he said he did not have it with him. Chicago Title would not give him his check without proper I.D., so he left. This concerned the escrow officer…
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Courtney Duke, Escrow Officer with Chicago Title, conducted a search online and found the real property owner of the rental property. She called him immediately to verify if he was selling his property…
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Amanda Clower, Escrow Operations Director for Alamo Title in Grapevine, Texas, received a contract on a small, dilapidated trailer that was basically being treated as vacant land, selling for only $15,000. She personally knew the buyer for more than eight…
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Let us discuss some of the other elements and methods of ransomware.…
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May 2022

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Investing in real estate can be a terrific way to build wealth in America. Property values have increased, providing property owners with big returns on their investment. Owners have also found creative ways to sell their property. Some turn to the many online …
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Kelly Lobeck, escrow officer for Ticor Title in Las Vegas, has more than 20 years of experience in the escrow industry. She has worked hard to develop a great reputation. A real estate agent she knows referred one of his family members to her. He had found…
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Under an equity share agreement, an organization provides funding under a home buyer program (picture down payment assistance) or a homeowner program in exchange for an option to purchase an interest in the property in the future…
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An escrow company owner who was also a limited practice officer, which is required in her state in order to complete legal documents, maintained an escrow trust account at a national banking institution…
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Cyber criminals often partner up with other syndicates to share their hacking techniques, malware code and information they have uncovered about technology infrastructure. This helps them to develop new techniques or employ previously…
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April 2022

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A mechanic's lien is a legal claim against a property filed by a subcontractor or material supplier when they have not received payment. The lien takes priority from the date the work began, breaking the priority of any previously recorded…
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A.V.P. and National Underwriter Evie Wexler of Chicago Title Insurance Company in New York, was working on title clearance for a pending transaction. The transaction involved an apartment building in Atlanta that recently underwent a remodel…
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Social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram and more give people immediate access to "news" and provide a publishing platform that is simple to use and has a wide reach…
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Malware needs an entry point to gain access to a computer or network. Cyber criminals continue to modify and improve their tactics, but generally they gain entry to a victim's network using one of three techniques…
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March 2022

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National Escrow Administration receives more than 100 inquiries per business day from a network of the most well-trained and experienced escrow settlement agents nationwide. In the article titled "Q&A with your escrow administrators" you can read…
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Want to take the guess work out of your next closing? This article reflects some of the most common questions that National Escrow Administration answers, from the hundreds of emails we receive on a daily basis…
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Using any internet connection potentially exposes the user to bad actors. Turning off the internet would be ideal, but with today's world it would be impossible to accomplish one's job. However, by using good judgment…
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These unique terms will help you to comprehend ransomware and how it works…
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February 2022

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There has been a steady rise in online scams, and fraudsters are relentless with online attacks. This is why it is important for our readers to stay vigilant and learn how to avoid newly trending scams. Most recently, there has been an increase in calls from fraudsters claiming …
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A trending telephone scam is on the horizon and is similar to the extended warranty scams being perpetrated on car owners. In the first version of this scam, fraudsters will leave a voicemail saying there has been some type of issue with your online Amazon…
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The term deed or title theft can be deceiving. With the circulation of inaccurate information, homeowners may believe that thieves can steal title to their home simply by forging a deed and recording it in the county records…
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Sheri Pickard and Brianna Ray, with Fidelity National Title of California, work in the Roseville Branch. They were working on a refinance transaction. They ordered and received the payoff demand for the borrowers' existing loan. They emailed a copy to the loan officer…
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Ransomware is a computer program or malware created by cybercriminals. It is used to infect a computer or server. It is often designed to spread across a network and target database and file servers; thus, it can quickly paralyze an entire organization…
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January 2022

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On November 29, 2021, an 87-year-old buyer from Pittsburgh, sent a wire transfer in the amount of $342,838.03 to purchase a home in a retirement community in Arizona. The funds were intended to reach Security Title Agency in Glendale, Arizona…
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Nattalie Moore, an escrow officer with Security Title Agency in Glendale, Arizona, was closing an all-cash purchase of a home for an 87-year-old buyer. Nearing the closing date, the buyer started receiving emails from someone who appeared to be …
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A public service announcement from the FBI. Originally published on December 3, 2021…
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There are many different types of cybercrime. One of these schemes is ransomware, which has impacted both public and private companies who have fallen victim to these attacks. Ransomware attacks can cripple their victims for hours, days, weeks…
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December 2021

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Wishing all our readers a healthy holiday and a prosperous New Year! As reported in previous editions, payoff statements containing fraudulent bank wire information continue to plague the real estate settlement industry. Receiving unsolicited payoff statements via e-fax or from third-party sources, such as attorneys representing the borrower, continue to be a common…
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On July 14, 2021, the investment operations contact from a large commercial lending group emailed their borrower a payoff statement in the amount of $56,941,212.03. The statement contained the payoff lender's bank wire information…
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Lori Prescott, a subescrow officer working for Fidelity's Centralized Subescrow Division in Riverside, California, was getting ready to record documents on two separate residential transactions. Both transactions were closing with the same independent escrow company…
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There are 16 states with some type of state withholding requirements or reporting for nonresident sellers. Those states are…
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November 2021

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Working from home? Getting used to a new work environment is stressful and somewhat overwhelming for settlement agents who are used to collaborating constantly with their colleagues and customers in their office space…
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The Company has put several securities in place so settlement agents who are permitted to work from home can access tools they need to conduct closings — such as email, production systems and document storage systems — using a virtual…
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InfraGard is a partnership between the FBI and members of the public. The InfraGard program provides a means for public collaboration with the FBI, resulting in the timely exchange of information. The group offers learning opportunities relevant to…
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The efficiency of computers has enhanced our productivity. Each day, there are new opportunities in our industry utilizing robots and technology. Let’s review the history of robots…
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October 2021

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Social media offers opportunity to connect online with others anywhere in the world. People young and old use social media to meet other like–minded individuals. This virtual method also provides new ways for people to be taken advantage…
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Social media can provide opportunities for fraudsters to create online identities solely for the purpose of tricking victims. They use the information posted to victims’ profile pages to “romantically” manipulate them. They move quickly…
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A real estate investor we will call by the fictitious name of “Mac Aroni” contacted Tanya Banovac, V.P. and Branch Manager of Lawyer’s Title of Arizona, Inc. He needed her assistance with the purchase of several acres of vacant land in a remote…
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Bitcoins have come a long way since we first published an article on the topic in July 2013. At the time, bitcoin was only valued at $114.50. Since then, the value has jumped to an astonishing high of $19,650 in December 2017 and down to $3,400…
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September 2021

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In 2019, we published a series of articles reinforcing the value of title insurance — our core product. Title insurance is an amazing, unique product which protects the American dream of homeownership. The national escrow administration team is… READ MORE>>

Gabriela “Gabby” Soto, Assistant Vice President, Assistant Branch Manager and Escrow Officer for Fidelity National Title Agency, was hard at work clearing title for a refinance. The Commitment for Title Insurance revealed the borrower had… READ MORE>>

Colorado residents can create an electronic version of their Colorado driver’s license or state identification card. They are available in Colorado through the mobile app, myColorado™… READ MORE>>

According to Cyber Security experts, when e–skimming occurs, an online shopper’s credit card information is skimmed from the merchandise checkout page. Then it is stored and sold in bulk on the dark web or used to make new purchases… READ MORE>>

July 2023img

We have been reporting regularly about the absentee owner scam and regulators nationwide are now distributing Advisory Messages to the real estate industry, specifically real estate agents, making them aware of…
READ MORE>>>

On a late Friday afternoon, Fidelity National Title Agency’s Southern Arizona Oracle Office in Tucson, received a purchase agreement for the sale of vacant land with a purchase price of $225,000. At opening…
READ MORE>>>

A title company in New York City was handling a sale transaction in the amount of $3,715,000. The Seller sent her attorney bank wire instructions for the sale proceeds on May 2, 2023. The instructions directed…
READ MORE>>>
 

Settlement agents who receive coins or currency that exceed $10,000 must report the deposit. Regardless of whether the deposit of the currency is made piecemeal or all at once, as soon as total currency deposited by the person....
READ MORE>>>