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Workshop highlights land fraud, wire transfer fraud

KINGMAN – There is no shortage of those who commit land fraud these days according to Laurie Barthlow, Escrow Administrator and Vice President at Chicago Title Agency.

On Monday, May 13, a workshop sponsored by the Kingman Chamber of Commerce was held with Barthlow, Vicki Wyatt, Escrow Officer with Pioneer Title Agency and local attorney Tom Price as presenters.  The workshop was attended by business owners, attorneys, Realtors and members of the general public.

Information covered included how to spot land and wire transfer fraud, safeguards that can be put in place and red flags to watch for. Barthlow said real estate fraud is older than she and Wyatt have been in the business, both more than 35 years.

Barthlow told the group that the fraudsters, as she refers to them, have figured out a way to insert themselves into the real estate transactions by impersonating escrow officers, notaries and others who are involved in the transaction.

Both reiterated the seriousness of the problem is why they decided to make a joint presentation to the real estate and business community.

“Maybe we could get people’s attention as to how serious this is and how good people are losing their life savings” stated Barthlow. She spoke about absentee owner fraud which is also referred to as owner imposter or impersonation fraud.

If a property is vacant, is a rental or a vacant lot it is easier for the fraudsters, she said. The criminal will pose as the owner and list the property with a real estate agent and will usually request a list price below market value to generate immediate interest.

Other red flags are quickly accepting a cash offer, refusing to sign escrow documents in person and requesting a remote notary, all communication being electronic, stolen and doctored logos are used and email addresses also are utilized that are similar but not exactly like that of the title company which are used for wiring funds.

Wyatt informed the group that once funds are wired they are usually gone.  She said the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) will sometimes investigate and recover funds.

One way you can protect your property from fraud is knowing your neighbors. If a fraudster puts up a for sale sign on the property of an absentee owner, a neighbor is more likely to call the owner about it. She said that is one of the ways they are being caught.

Additionally, the title company has an electronic means to vet sellers in transactions using photos of a driver’s license which the program will run through the Motor Vehicle Department records. Barthlow said at least one gets through and almost to escrow about once a month in Bullhead City.

“We are catching these in that office,” she said. She advised participants not to anything without a title search and most importantly to use a realtor® and a real estate attorney.

Wyatt stated that most people think wire fraud won’t happen to them. She mentioned a story about a New York Supreme Court Justice who became a victim and lost more than $1 million to fraudsters.

She went on to state that according to a fraud recovery service, during a transaction nearly one in four will receive a suspicious communication, more than one in ten become targets of fraud and more than one in twenty become victims.

“When money is gone it is probably gone; sending a wire is like handing somebody money,” explained Wyatt. “You really have to be conscious and it’s about us educating people. Cybersecurity is a journey; it is not a destination.  We are gong to be on this road for a long time.”

She urged participants to take the information they got today and share it with people they work with.

Price said that it is difficult to stop wire fraud and gave an example of one of his cases in which about 80% of the wired money was intercepted due to the vigilance of a banker in Texas who put a flag on the transaction. He said it took 6 months to settle that case. Becky Foster