2011-01-12 / Features

Jamaica Is No. 1 U.S. Site For Mortgage Fraud


Mortgage fraud is a growing crime that is hurting homeowners, businesses and the national economy, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The feds say the latest scam on the block is house stealing. House stealing, described as a totally new kind of crime, is the result of combining identity theft and mortgage fraud.

New York state ranks third nationally in mortgage fraud crimes, behind California and Florida, and Jamaica, Queens is the number one ZIP Code in the entire United States for mortgage fraud crimes, Michael P. Flowers, director of the Financial Crime Task Force of the Office of the Mayor, told the Queens borough cabinet at the its December meeting.

“Because of the nature of Queens (high homeownership), it has the highest incidence of this crime in the country,” Flowers said.

In response, the New York City Department of Finance and the New York City Criminal Justice Coordinator’s Office have implemented a new program to assist property owners, who are often the last to know when a fraud has been committed, by alerting them when documents are recorded without their knowledge.

The goal, said Flowers, is to help homeowners prevent and detect property fraud. “Fraud can only occur in the dark,” he said.

The program allows property owners, or their designees, in the case of elderly parents or relatives, to register their property, using the borough, block and lot number or just the address, to receive an e-mail, text message or letter each time a deed, mortgage, or related mortgage document is recorded against the registered property.

In most cases of real estate fraud, the actual property owners are unaware of any fraudulent activity until they sell their home, transfer title to a relative, refinance their mortgage, or become subject to a foreclosure action.

The FBI scenario for mortgage fraud is simple. Criminals pick a house. It can be a vacation home, rental property or a home that someone is living in right now. Then the criminals steal the homeowner’s identity and create fake IDs. Finally, they transfer the deed of the house into their names by obtaining the forms, forging signatures and using the fake IDs, and filing the paperwork with proper authorities. When they own the home, they can get a mortgage or sell the property.

Under New York state law, city Register Offices are generally required to record all deeds and mortgages that are proper on their face. This means that if fraudulent documents are completed correctly and properly acknowledged and notarized, they are recorded and may go undetected until the defrauded party is served with foreclosure documents or the defrauded party institutes a legitimate transaction against the property.

Matt Rosen of the Mayor’s Office Financial Crime Task Force said seniors were highly vulnerable to the crime. In one case in Queens, Rosen said, a 93-year old man suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease had his Jamaica home and a second property he owned stolen.

Property owners or their designees can register to receive notifications by completing an application online at www.nyc.gov/finance.

“The program can’t work unless homeowners sign up,” Rosen said.

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