Division of Real Estate Warns Homeowners About ‘Equity Skimming’ Schemes

By now, we should all be wary of people offering to “help” us financially, usually via the internet or email, but also by phone.  As the saying goes, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Last week the Colorado Division of Real Estate (DRE) issued a warning about scammers cheating homeowners out of their home’s equity on the pretext of helping them pay HOA liens on their home.

Yes, an HOA can place a lien on your home for failing to pay your HOA assessments or fines, and an HOA lien takes priority even over the lien of your mortgage lender.

It is possible for an HOA to foreclose on your $600,000 home because of unpaid dues or fines, no matter how small. But if you can’t pay, what do you do? Those liens and subsequent foreclosure actions become public records, making you an easy-to-find target for a scammer wanting to “help” you.

Here’s a link to the full DRE warning. It describes several scamming scenarios. According to the DRE’s warning, those scenarios “can leave a homeowner losing their property, becoming a renter in their own home, having their credit rating severely damaged, and having the possibility that the lender may pursue a deficiency judgment against them if the property is foreclosed upon, as well as the HOA pursuing a personal judgment against them for unpaid HOA dues.”

Homeowners are urged to look for the following red flags:

>  Anyone wanting you to act fast with a quick-fix to your financial difficulties.

>  Promises to resolve your financial problems and to leave your cares behind.

>  Someone wanting you to transfer your ownership in the property to them.

>  Anyone asking you to sign a power of attorney for them to act on your behalf.

> Proposing that you’ll be a tenant in the home that you now own.

>  Someone telling you that there is no need to consult with an attorney, accountant, real estate broker, lender or anyone else.

Feel free to contact me if you find yourself in this or a similar situation. My intention is not to convince you to list your home with me. I just want to give you my own layman’s feedback on what others may have told you, and I can, if appropriate, refer you to a trusted real estate attorney. First, however, read that DRE warning, which has lots of useful information and links for reporting suspected scams or getting other advice.

And, as I like to say, remember that “Google is your friend.”  When contacted by someone you suspect could be a scammer, do a web search for the person and/or company and/or email address and/or phone number. Also, we have a special app called “Forewarn,” only available to licensed Realtors like myself, where I can instantly search by name or phone number. My broker associates and I use that app to check out people who want to do business with us, instantly learning their age, properties owned, bankruptcies or liens, criminal charges, and even cars they own.  I’m happy to do such a search for you, too.

Lastly, I’d like to put in a good word for my cell carrier, T-Mobile.  My previous cell carrier was AT&T, which didn’t provide Caller ID on people not in my contact list, but I do get Caller ID with T-Mobile. If a number does not have a name associated with it, I let it go into voice-mail, and those callers rarely leave a message, suggesting, I believe, that it was a “spoofed” number by a solicitor or scammer. Thank you, T-Mobile! I’m wasting a lot less time than I used to on answering unwanted calls.

Golden Real Estate Uses an App to Protect Clients From Being Scammed

For over a year, we at Golden Real Estate have had access to an app that is only available to licensed real estate professionals for the purpose of protecting our clients (and us) from would-be criminals or scammers.

The app is called Forewarn, and it enables us to trace any phone number within seconds to verify the age, address, criminal record and other information about the caller.

At right is a screen shot from the app when I enter my own cell number, showing the many categories of information available for any person identified using the app. I urge my broker associates to use the app themselves or ask me to use it when they want to verify the background of any stranger who asks them to set up a showing. Any Realtor who joins Golden Real Estate has free access to this information to assist clients and for their personal safety.

We originally subscribed to this service to protect ourselves — especially our female agents — following the murder of a Louisiana agent by a person posing as a buyer. However, we have learned that it’s a service that could help clients and us from being scammed.

This app is not available to people outside the real estate profession, and any agent who applies for the app is also screened so the tool does not get into the hands of the wrong people.

We use this app to protect our clients from scammers who are increasingly targeting homeowners as well as home buyers.

As explained by Forewarn, fake internet listings, fake homeowners or sellers, and fake investors are just some of the reasons working with a real estate agent who has purchased this app can help buyers and sellers avoid scammers and avoid potentially losing thousands of dollars.

According to the FBI, there were 11,300 victims of fraud involving real estate in 2018, with victims losing almost $150 million  We can use the app to verify the identity of anyone pretending to be a landlord, seller, buyer or renter.  If we don’t have a phone number for the person, we can use the app to look them up by their name and city. If it’s an unusual name, we don’t even need the city, just the state.

Perhaps you, like so many, have received phone calls, letters or postcards from investors or individuals offering to buy your home. Homeowners have very few resources for verifying such a person’s identity or legitimacy. With this app, we can help you verify a buyer’s identity, and verify their financial history (bankruptcies, liens, judgments), while helping you get the best price for your home. On the other side, there are real estate investors being scammed as well. Being able to quickly verify identity and property ownership may help reduce the chance of fraud.

There are plenty of fraudulent activities in the real estate industry. Using the app, not only to verify prospects but also the other parties involved in a transaction, can reduce financial risk for you as well as bring to light fake identities.

There are so many kinds of scams that we can help you avoid. It’s one of the ways that our broker associates and I can add significant value to each real estate transaction and to our community.

As Realtors, we have many other resources available to us, such as an app which provides detailed information about properties anywhere in America, including the name of the owner(s) and estimated valuation.

This is another reason to work with a broker from Golden Real Estate.  Call one of us today!