Make us your home page
Instagram

Column: Mortgage menaces hit close to home, stats show

The creaking wheels of federal justice turned a bit last week with the FBI's unveiling of its Operation Malicious Mortgage, a crackdown on mortgage frauds topping a combined $1-billion and involving more than 400 defendants nationwide charged over the past 31/2 months.

It's classic Hollywood showmanship. How many days and man-hours were spent in the J. Edgar Hoover HQ just coming up with the alliterative Malicious Mortgage monicker? Still, the white-hat FBI posse arrived, finally, in town to warn whatever scamming saps are still around that they are in trouble.

"To persons who are involved in such schemes, we will find you, you will be investigated and you will be prosecuted," FBI Director Robert Mueller said.

Let's hope so. The housing bubble and collapse has been under way for years and law enforcement takedowns of substance have been the exception.

It's no secret experts years ago pegged Florida as the No. 1 spot for mortgage fraud. If the FBI's numbers are right, we may be on the front end of an arrestfest for housing-related skulduggery.

For starters, the feds say 19 mortgage lenders, investment banks, hedge funds, credit-rating agencies and accounting firms are under review. Mueller notes mortgage-related investigations have jumped threefold recently, with 1,400 inquiries into accounting fraud, insider trading and other schemes.

South Florida's voluminous fraud easily overshadows that of the Tampa Bay area, but we have little to brag about. Cases of suspected mortgage fraud in Central Florida are up 365 percent since 2004, the FBI office in Tampa says. Last year here, lenders filed 2,041 mortgage fraud complaints, up from 439 in 2004.

Nationwide, banks reported nearly 53,000 cases of suspected fraud last year, up from more than 37,000 a year earlier. And fraud complaints by consumers rose 31 percent to 46,717 in the fiscal year that ended Oct. 31 over the previous fiscal year.

In the Tampa Bay area, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum recently sued four foreclosure rescue companies, accusing them of fraud and deceptive trade practices. And 17 area companies are under investigation by McCollum's mortgage fraud task force.

The latest mortgage scams are many and creative. Consider "builder-bailout" schemes in which developers unload excess inventory through financial trickery. Or foreclosure rescue frauds that cajole homeowners into signing over the deed to their house. Or seller-assistance scams that use false appraisals to sell homes. Or identity theft that leads to home equity credit lines being opened and drained.

In the time it's taken to read this, another malicious Florida mortgage fraud has occurred. Protect yourself.

Robert Trigaux can be reached at trigaux@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8405.

Five ways to avoid mortgage fraud

1. Get referrals for real estate and mortgage professionals.

2. Check the license of the industry professional with state, county or city regulators.

3. Look for tax assessments to verify the value of a property.

4. Don't understand what you're signing? Ask a lawyer to help.

5. Never sign a loan document that contains blanks.

Column: Mortgage menaces hit close to home, stats show 06/21/08 [Last modified: Sunday, June 22, 2008 10:55pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Heights Public Market to host two Tampa Bay food trucks

    Business

    TAMPA — The Heights Public Market announced the first two food trucks for its "rotating stall," which will feature new restaurants every four months. Surf and Turf and Empamamas will be rolled out first.

    Heights Public Market is opening this summer inside the Tampa Armature Works building.
[SKIP O'ROURKE   |   Times file photo]

  2. Author Randy Wayne White could open St. Pete's biggest restaurant on the pier

    Food & Dining

    ST. PETERSBURG — The story begins with Yucatan shrimp.

    St. Petersburg Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, pilot Mark Futch, Boca Grande, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, and author and businessman Randy Wayne White,  Sanibel, exit a Maule Super Rocket seaplane after taking a fight around Tampa Bay off the St. Petersburg waterfront, 6/28/17.  White and his business partners are in negotiations with the City of St. Petersburg to build a fourth Doc Ford's Rum Bar & Grille on the approach to the St. Petersburg Pier with a second event space on the pier according to White. The group met near Spa Beach after a ground breaking ceremony for the new pier. "We want to have our business open by the time the pier opens," said White. Other Dr. Ford restaurants are located on Sanibel, Captiva and Ft. Myers Beach. SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
  3. Guilty plea for WellCare Health Plans former counsel Thaddeus Bereday

    Business

    Former WellCare Health Plans general counsel Thaddeus M.S. Bereday pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to the Florida Medicaid program, and faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set, acting U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow of the Middle District …

    WellCare Health Plans former general counsel Thaddeus M.S. Bereday, pleaded guilty to one count of making a false statement to the Florida Medicaid program, and faces a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. A sentencing date has not yet been set, acting U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow of the Middle District of Florida stated Wednesday. [LinkedIn handout]
  4. DOT shows alternatives to former Tampa Bay Express toll lanes

    Transportation

    TAMPA — State transportation officials are evaluating at least a half-dozen alternatives to the controversial Tampa Bay interstate plan that they will workshop with the community over the next 18 months.

    Florida Department of Transportation consultant Brad Flom explains potential alternatives to adding toll lanes to Interstate 275 during a meeting Wednesday at DOT's Tampa office. Flom presented seven diagrams, all of which swapped toll lanes for transit, such as light rail or express bus, in the I-275 corridor from downtown Tampa to Bearss Ave. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON | Times]
  5. Claim: State pressured CFO, used secret recordings to shut down Universal Health Care

    Banking

    ST. PETERSBURG — The founder of St. Petersburg's Universal Health Care alleges that Florida regulators conspired with the company's chief financial officer to drive the once high-flying Medicare insurer out of business.

    Federal agents raided the headquarters of Universal Health Care in 2013, ordering employees to leave the building. The insolvent St. Petersburg Medicare insurer was then in the process of being liquidated by state regulators.
[DIRK SHADD   |   Times file photo]