Beware of recent seller imposter fraud

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Fraudsters are creative, changing their schemes to meet the current market at every turn! Seller imposter fraud has been an issue for several years, but we’re hearing new reports in South Carolina. My favorite title insurance company and former employer, Chicago Title, sent out its third memorandum about seller imposter fraud on December 8. I wanted to make sure all readers of this blog are aware of the new efforts by fraudsters.

Several dirt lawyers in Charleston have reported variations in the seller imposter fraud arena in the last month.

Here are warning signs Chicago Title’s memo highlights:

  • The property involved is often unimproved.
  • The property is often advertised for sale through internet-based listing services.
  • The property is often listed at a price less than fair market value.
  • Contact with the imposter seller is often only by email.
  • The purported seller declines any requested in-person contact.
  • The purported seller supplies identification only by photocopy or teleconference.
  • The purported seller suggests executing documents outside of closing.
  • The purported seller suggests acting via power of attorney.

If you see any of these factors in your closings, pay particular attention to the identity of the seller. Advise your staff of these matters and advise them to allow a second set of eyes to review any questionable practices suggested by sellers.

As the excellent underwriting staff of Chicago Title reports, most of these attempts to steal are entirely preventable by paying attention to documents and taking extra steps to verify the identities of the parties involved in your closings.

South Carolina lawyers have prevented these fraud attempts by using the following tactics:

  • They carefully review documents for irregularities and inconsistencies.
  • They verify seller identity through contact information available in the public records or through other trusted sources.
  • They verify foreign identities and notarizations by contact with appropriate embassies.
  • They confirm witnesses and notorizations with the notary whose signature appears on the documents.
  • They compare package tracking information and wiring instructions to the purported location of the seller.

Please be careful out there and advise your staff members of these issues.

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