It goes without saying that one of the most important partnerships for a real estate lawyer is a great title insurance company. I am biased, but in my opinion, there is no better title insurance company doing business in South Carolina than Chicago Title.
This week, a warning was issued from Chicago Title about a new and very specific fraud scheme that I want to share with all South Carolina practitioners.
Chicago Title received two reports last week of fraudsters apparently operating out of Houston. The fraudsters posed as owners of South Carolina properties and listed the properties for sale on Zillow. Mail away cash closings were scheduled with local real estate lawyers. In both cases, the fraudsters provided presumably fake identification and deeds to closing attorneys.
In the first case, the closing attorney very astutely foiled the scheme when he determined the signatures on the deed appeared suspicious. He contacted the New York notary who purportedly notarized the deed. She reported her seal had been stolen and used in at least one successful fraudulent scheme. The lawyer also learned from Federal Express that the deed had been sent from Houston rather than New York, where the seller was purportedly located. The transaction was stopped.
Unfortunately, the second transaction was not stopped. This seller package also originated in Houston. The fraudster’s telephone number appears on Zillow listing for properties in multiple states. Houston law enforcement has been notified and is opening an investigation.
Any mail away closings should be particularly scrutinized. If you conduct a closing with an unfamiliar seller, you should be especially vigilant in confirming the identities of the parties. Use more than one set of eyes in your office! Anything that appears unusual should be examined carefully. Give your staff the flexibility to slow down and carefully examine each document. Tell them to bring any unusual document to you. Check behind your staff! A great real estate paralegal is invaluable, but we spent three years in law school learning to spot issues. Use those issue-spotting skills to foil these fraudsters!
Be careful and good luck out there!