By Michael Olear
Fraud. Scams. We hear and see the stories in the news every day, and with no shortage of people looking to take advantage of others, there is no realistic end in sight.
Fraud, unfortunately, has found its way into every industry imaginable, including the real estate industry. Today I’d like to focus on some of the more common real estate scams and complaints, and what you can do to avoid them. Identity fraud is perhaps the most common. You can avoid becoming a victim by practicing some simple steps, such as limiting the personal information you share on social media platforms. The group posts, for example, that ask you to acknowledge if you went to such and such high school at a certain time are not good to click on. These can often be an attempt to verify information about many people at once.
The most potential for harm and damage is fraudulent utilization of the information in your credit file. Since the Equifax breach exposed data for 145 million Americans, the reality is that a lot of permanent information is out there. In our ultra-electronic world, it is possible for a criminal to borrow against real estate using your information if the right conditions exist even if you don’t currently own a house. The only solution here is locking your credit file on the three major credit bureaus – Trans-Union, Equifax and Experian. This is a relatively simple process yet last year USA Today reported that only 12% of Americans have taken the simple steps necessary to safeguard their personal credit file. It takes all of five minutes to do this on the website of each credit reporting bureau. The “unfreezing” process when you are applying for a mortgage or a car loan is just as quick and simple. Doing this by phone takes a little longer but when you consider the downside of not doing so, you might find this worth your time.
Mortgage fraud is another concern. While most mortgage companies are reputable, there are some that have less than stellar reputations. Be sure to do your research and check the credentials of any mortgage company before committing to do business with them, and be sure to read and understand all documents before signing anything. Get an attorney review before committing if you don’t understand what you are signing, especially if you are doing this remotely online.
The purpose of this article is not to scare anyone, but rather to inform. A very high percentage of financial and real estate transactions and open house events are concluded legally, ethically and without incident every day. But taking a common sense approach in any situation will help ensure your safety in all of life’s adventures. If your credit isn’t locked, please give it some consideration.
Michael Olear is a Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker with MJ Peterson Real Estate. Find him online at www.olear.com.