"Trust, but verify" was a Russian proverb used in the Reagan era. Unfortunately, the words are at odds with each other. If you trust, there shouldn't be a need to verify. If you verify, you don't have trust. As a sign of our time, the mantra should really be "Verify, then trust."
With the amount of money needed to sell, buy or rent property, criminals can have a lucrative payday if they successfully scam the public. We sat down with a local lender and a representative from a title company about scams that might be happening and discussed ways the public can protect themselves.
Let's look at some of the different types of scams currently floating around.
1. After you've recently purchased a home, you receive a letter indicating you can get a copy of your recorded deed — just send a nominal amount to cover the fees.
2. You receive a notice of a last-minute opportunity to refinance your mortgage at an incredibly low interest rate, with minimal closing costs and fees.
3. You receive a notice that your mortgage has been sold to another servicing company and told to send your monthly mortgage payments to the address included in the notice.
Title company scams:
1. A fraudulent cashier's check used at closing is from outside of Alaska — which is hard to verify.
2. Power of Attorney is used at closing, but the title company is unable to do a "Live and Well" verification. Is the person dead, mentally incapacitated, or even aware the property is being sold?
3. A last-minute change in wiring instructions for a buyer's down payment, followed by a call from an unknown person confirming the information.
Other real estate scams:
1. Renters show up with household goods, only to find the properties were not actual rental units and they can't get back their security deposits and first-month rent checks.
2. Fake renters, with fake leases, are squatting in vacant homes, forcing new homeowners to start an eviction process or pay their claimed losses.
It can be confusing when you receive all the above in official-looking documents, calls or emails. How can this be? With software, screen captures, "phishing" of public records information and social media, it has become far easier for scammers to appear official enough to promote credibility.
The hope is you don't notice the letterhead or the email looks just a little off, and you react emotionally, without thinking. Their goal is to create enough trust that you won't verify.
Here are a couple of things you can do to protect you and your family.
First, understand that emails are the most inexpensive way to send out a scam. Emails don't cost any postage and are easy to mass mail. Emails allow a scammer to pose as a friend, co-worker or professional.
The best way to protect yourself is to not respond. Do not click to open anything within even the most legitimate looking email. Especially be wary of someone indicating they are working "on behalf of" someone else you already trust at the title company or your lender. Confirm the identity of any suspicious emails,
Second, limit the information you provide if you are contacted by phone.
Scammers rely on quickly developing a level of trust to get you to do something you wouldn't do for a stranger. Red flags of a potential scam include the caller asking for money, confidential information, or insisting you need to act now. To verify, immediately call your original point of contact at the title company or your loan officer. If the caller is legitimate, the delay won't be an issue. If you've verified a scam and they repeatedly call back, you may need to block the call.
Finally, whether you are selling, buying or renting, everyone involved should verify — the title company, your loan officer and you. The verifications may seem redundant or sometimes intrusive, but it is really being done for your protection.
With so much hard-earned money at stake, always confirm with a known person or call a known phone number. Verify, then trust — but if you suspect a scam, report it so others can be warned.