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By Angel Calzadilla | Agent in Fort Lauderdale, FL
  • Thousands of real estate listings hit by spam

    Posted Under: General Area in New York, Crime & Safety in New York, Home Buying in New York  |  July 20, 2014 1:03 PM  |  61 views  |  No comments

     Spammers who managed to tuck the word "abortion pills" into thousands of home listing descriptions got greater exposure when the listings were distributed to advertising real estate websites, such Trulia and Zillow. The extent of the problem is not yet clear, but it could also affect realtor.com listings, according to a report from Inman News.

    The problem seems to have originated with Systems Engineering Inc.'s Navica Revolution MLS, a platform used by nearly 160 multiple listing services representing approximately 40,000 subscribers around the country. Researchers found affected listings in such states as Wisconsin, North Carolina, Texas and Virginia. However, it's not clear how the spam works or how a system got hacked.

    In some cases, listing descriptions merely contained the words "abortion pill." In other instances, it suggested that a reader could order abortion pills but offered no way to do that. In some cases, a URL directed viewers to a nearly blank webpage with the word "HEALTHY" appearing on the left-hand side.

    Trulia said it identified and removed more than 2,653 listings that contained the "abortion pill" spam on Monday morning alone. Once cleaned of the foreign words, they say the listing descriptions will be back online and listings that haven't been compromised will be handled normally.

  • Company says it owns disclosure technology and sues

    Posted Under: General Area in Dover, Crime & Safety in Dover  |  February 12, 2014 7:19 AM  |  539 views  |  No comments
    Thirteen real estate companies face patent infringement lawsuits lodged by Property Disclosure Technologies LLC (PDT), a Delaware-based firm that holds patents on a “real estate disclosure reporting method.”

    PDT is classified as a “nonpracticing entity,” meaning it earns most of its revenue from the licensing or enforcement of its patents. A company that relies mainly on licensing from patents is often called a “patent troll.”

    PDF names some big-name real estate companies in its lawsuit, including Zillow, Redfin, Re/Max, Keller Williams, Weichert and eight other realty businesses.

    The lawsuit revolves around two patents owned by PDF that describe a systemized process for handling property disclosures.

    The National Association of Realtors® (NAR) says it has heard of PDT and is keeping a close eye on developments involving patent trolls. It has asked its membership to report any demands from companies to pay licensing fees for a technology or process they use in their business. In turn, NAR hopes to use any anecdotal evidence it collects to sway legislative efforts against patent trolls.

    “We do know that our members have been impacted by the trolls, and we think that their resources are being diverted to this troll problem that could better be used in their business,” says NAR senior policy representative Melanie Wyne.
  • Laws effective today affect liens and tax notices

    Posted Under: Crime & Safety in Tallahassee, Tech Tips in Tallahassee, How To... in Tallahassee  |  October 1, 2013 2:56 PM  |  1,401 views  |  No comments
    Two Florida laws created by the 2013 Florida Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott become effective today Oct 1st of 2013, along with a new ban on texting while driving that could impact some Realtors who get back to clients as quickly as they can.

    Electronic version of yearly property tax notices. Historically, counties mail TRIM notices (property tax assessments) and other documents, including sample election ballots, to homeowners by first-class mail. However under a law effective today, a county can opt for an online system, providing certain conditions are met, such as an “opt-in” system for collecting email addresses.

    Hidden liens. Sometimes governmental and quasi-governmental entities place a lien on property that isn’t discovered until closing, which disrupts an otherwise good transaction. A bill by Realtor and Rep. John Wood (R-Winter Haven) requires these liens to now be recorded in the county where the property is located to be valid.

    This only applies to liens entered by a governmental or quasi-governmental entity for services, fines or penalties, however. It does not affect liens for taxes, non-ad valorem or special assessments, or utilities.

    No texting while driving. It’s important to get back to clients quickly, but it’s now illegal to type on any type of device while operating a moving vehicle, though texting while stopped at a red light is still acceptable. The first offense is a $30 fine; additional tickets within five years are a $60 fine and take three points off the offender’s driver’s license.

    Florida drivers, however, cannot be stopped for texting while driving. It’s considered a secondary offense, so law enforcement may only stop drivers for another reason, such as speeding.
  • Bank of America accused of misleading investors

    Posted Under: Crime & Safety in Charlotte, Investment Properties in Charlotte  |  August 7, 2013 3:07 PM  |  1,266 views  |  No comments
    Federal prosecutors announced a civil lawsuit Tuesday against Bank of America for allegedly failing to disclose risks and misleading investors in a $850 million mortgage-bond deal offered in 2008.

    The federal court complaint alleged that the bank lied to investors about the relative riskiness of the mortgage loans that backed the securities, made false statements and filled the offering with a disproportionate amount of risky home loans originated through third-party brokers.

    The action filed in North Carolina also targeted Bank of America affiliates Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith and Bank of Bank of America Mortgages Securities.

    In a related lawsuit also filed there, the Securities and Exchange Commission alleged that more than 70 percent of the mortgages in the Bank of America offering originated with brokers unaffiliated with the giant bank. Those mortgages had “vastly greater risks of severe delinquencies, early defaults, underwriting defects and prepayment,” the SEC said.

    Both lawsuits focused on residential mortgage-backed securities – bonds backed by a pool of residential mortgage loans packaged together at varying levels of risk and sold to investors. Such deals played a significant role in the U.S. real estate market collapse during the financial crisis.

    “Bank of America’s reckless and fraudulent origination and securitization practices in the lead-up to the financial crisis caused significant losses to investors,” said U.S. Attorney Anne Tompkins of North Carolina’s western district. “Now, Bank of America will have to face the consequences of its actions.”

    Bank of America said in a statement that the loans performed better than similar ones originated at the same time by other institutions. “We are not responsible for the housing market collapse that caused mortgage loans to default at unprecedented rates and these securities to lose value as a result,” the bank said.

    Separately Tuesday, Swiss banking giant UBS agreed to pay nearly $50 million to settle allegations that it misled investors in a 2007 mortgage-bond deal that went bad as the U.S. real estate market imploded.

    The SEC said Switzerland’s largest bank agreed to the settlement after the bank kept $23.6 million in upfront payments it received while acquiring collateral for the deal without investors’ knowledge.

    “UBS kept $23.6 million that under the terms of the deal should have gone … for the benefit of its investors,” said George Canellos, co-director of the SEC’s enforcement division. “In doing so, UBS misrepresented the nature of the … collateral and rendered false the disclosures about how that collateral was acquired.”

    UBS agreed to the settlement without admitting or denying SEC allegations that the bank had violated U.S. securities laws.

    Under the terms of the settlement, the SEC said UBS will give up the $23.6 million in upfront payments, along with the $10.8 million fee the bank received on the deal. The bank will also pay approximately $9.7 million in prejudgment interest and a $5.7 million penalty.
  • What’s your Pinnum? New safety tool for agents

    Posted Under: Quality of Life in Fort Lauderdale, Crime & Safety in Fort Lauderdale, Home Buying in Fort Lauderdale  |  July 5, 2013 12:51 PM  |  944 views  |  No comments
    Pinnum, a free phone app that combines GPS and social media, allows users to pinpoint the location of everyone in their household and contact them via text.

    But it can also be a tool to help keep Realtors safe. California real estate broker Debbie Ferrari uses the app to keep track of her female agents.

    “If they’re on Pinnum and showing properties, we can track them down,” Ferrari says. “And if they don’t want the office to know where they are, they can put their phones on Stealth.”

    If a Realtor cannot be reached by phone and is not where she or he is expected to be, his or her location can be given to the police.

    Pinnum also can help agents whose cars break down or get a flat tire, as they can send a screenshot of their location to emergency services. Brokers can even use the app to see where agents are when they’re late for meetings, so they know whether to wait a few more minutes or get started.

  • How to identify fraud and forgery in Real Estate

    Posted Under: Crime & Safety in Miami, Home Buying in Miami, Home Selling in Miami  |  July 14, 2012 12:31 PM  |  1,093 views  |  No comments

    Real Estate is an important asset and is often the subject of fraud and forgery.

    The public land records relied upon in conducting title examinations are far from perfect.

    Fraud and forgery associated with documents recorded in the land records, are sometimes difficult to detect. Therefore title insurance is needed. In recent years all Title insurance companies have experienced an increase in title claim losses. 
    Factors contributing to fraud and forgery: 
    Increase in fraudulent Real Estate schemes.

    Relaxation of underwriting standards caused by the frenzy in refinance activity.
    The general depreciation of Real Estate prices.

    Most claims, including fraud and forgery claims are preventable. Red flags in the land records or at closing should increase the Real Estate professional's level of scrutiny.  
    Short Story:

    Mary was a young, single mother in desperate need for quick cash to help with day-to-day living expenses. John, a good friend of Mary’s brother, coincidentally appeared in Mary’s time of need and represented himself as an experienced financier. Because for John’s high-level contacts in the lending industry, Mary was reassured that her lack of employment and bank account would not be a negative influence on her ability to obtain a loan secured by a mortgage on the home her parents had left her. John introduced Mary to a friend of his who was employed with a local lender and assisted with the loan application process. The lender, obviously anxious to assist Mary with a 12 percent interest rate and a 21 point loan began the process.

    A title search revealed the fact that the last conveyance of record was to Mary’s mother and father. The title company required deeds from the parents to Mary. The plot becomes confused when it was discovered that Mary’s mother had died a year earlier, her father had been deceased for nearly four years. Nevertheless, Mary, with the assistance of John, was able to produce a warranty deed from the mother and a quitclaim deed from the father. The deeds contained a recent notary acknowledgement even though both deeds were dated in 1995. Both deeds were recorded (eight years after the alleged execution), the loan funded, and the title insurance policy issued. Mary soon defaulted on the loan. Prior to the foreclosure, Mary’s siblings (who were the heirs to the property) filed an action challenging the validity of the deeds and the mortgage. The assignee of the mortgage, as successor under the title policy, tendered the defense of the litigation to the title company and counsel was retained. Lender’s counsel filed a third party action against the notary who witnessed the signatures on the deeds.

    Red Flags:

    Eight-years old deeds from the parents.

    Intra-family transfers ( including transfers between spouses)

    Quit-claim deed ( as oppoused to warranty deed )

    Individual who appears with original documents signed by others.

    Each individual involved in the Real Estate closing process needs to develop a sixth sense to look beyond the obvious and take issue with the more subtle "red flags" that arise.

    Some common facts patterns:
    The absentee property owner

    Unimproved property owned by nonresidents

    The absentee spouse, Where one spouse “volunteers” to obtain the signature of the other spouse, significant red flags are raised

    Domestic litigation

    The unseen party

    The unusually rushed closing

    Techniques to protect against fraud and forgery in real estate transactions.

    Real estate professionals should be vigilant to any “red flags” raised in closing situations. Being called paranoid should be considered a compliment! Use a critical eye and develop an inquiring mind! Use common sense!

    Real estate professionals should not hesitate to investigate signatures with witnesses and notaries. Honest witnesses and notaries will not mind!

    In these days of the Internet, it is often possible to check names, addresses and telephone numbers of parties instantaneously.

    Real Estate professionals should not hesitate to ask questions of lenders, mortgage brokers and others involved in closings.

    Everyone involved in a closing (with the exception of the “bad guys”) should be interested in eliminating fraud and forgery and should cooperate when questions are raised.

    A technique that is sometimes used is to mail a letter to the address of the property involved or to the address where the tax notices are mailed. The real property owner may be alerted to a scheme involving his or her property.

    Real Estate professionals should not let any party’s demand for haste result in a failure to examine the “red flags”

    Notaries should be encouraged to secure their seals.

    Notaries should be encouraged never to acknowledge signatures by telephone.

    Real Estate professionals should involve and cooperate with law enforcement authorities.

    Powers of attorney are often suspect. The use of a power of attorney, alone, should raise a red flag.

    Signatures on closing documents should be compared with signatures in the chain of title. (A current seller has most likely signed a prior mortgage. These signatures can be compared.) Pay attention to “shaky” signatures of aged persons and persons of failing health, particularly if later signatures are more youthful.

    Pay attention to spelling. Forgers often misspell their victims’ names or sign them differently, like with or without middle initials, with or without designations such as “Sr.”, “Jr.”, “M.D.”.

    Original documents should be examined. Examining photocopies is no substitute. Examining originals makes it easier to tell whether the signature was done smoothly, by the experienced hand of the true signatory or, instead, in a series of movements with the pen being lifted or the pressure being reduced as each stroke is accomplished. Tracings are also easier detected by examining originals.

    Mortgage satisfactions of record by institutional lenders should be compared to suspect mortgage satisfactions that appear at closings. Institutional lender often stick to the same forms and same signatories. Variations should raise red flags.

    Mortgages satisfied outside closings may raise red flags. Although individuals often pay off mortgages in the normal course, according to a normal payment year mortgage is paid every month for years and then is suddenly satisfied, not in connection with a closing, the real estate professional should pay particular attention to the satisfaction.

    Make telephone calls to signatories to ask if they have actually signed documents.

    Another short story

    Sam Wheeler is a seller of mobile home and land packages. He markets mostly to firsttime buyers, and he advertises the lowest up-front costs in the industry. Sam tells closing attorneys that buyers have made down payments prior to closings, ranging from $3,000 to $5,000. Sam asks the closing attorneys to show theamount the borrowers paid in his office on line 303 of the HUD-1 Settlement Statement as “cash from borrower”. The problem was that the funds were never paid. The seller, buyer and lawyer signed the HUD-1 as if it was factually correct. These individuals face federal charges.

    Flip transactions

    Two closings in one day . . .Steve Tyler buys a house for $55,000 from an elderly widow, Susan Jones, and sells it to a young couple, David and Myra Smith, for $80,000. David and Myra obtain a loan from ABC Funding. There are two sets of HUDs and two deeds. We try to teach our attorneys not to handle flip transactions Typically, the clients expect the proceeds from the second transaction to be used to fund the first transaction. Often, the borrowers qualify for the loans with forged appraisals, employment verifications, and credit reports.

    Bottom line. . .

    • There are many, many ways closing attorneys and others involved in real estate transactions can get into trouble with fraud and forgery situations. We must be vigilant!

    Angel Calzadilla, Real Estate consultant 

  • Another blow for Internet security

    Posted Under: Crime & Safety in New York  |  June 7, 2012 4:36 PM  |  1,300 views  |  No comments

    In the latest blow to online confidence, the accounts of some users of business-networking site LinkedIn and dating site eHarmony were compromised after users’ encrypted passwords were posted on the Internet.

    Many of LinkedIn’s 161 million members worldwide, who use the site to form professional connections, were also bombarded Wednesday by e-mail from unfamiliar parties urging them to click on links to verify e-mail addresses. LinkedIn and eHarmony join the list of several major websites, including retailer Zappos.com, that were hacked in recent months.

    Wednesday’s cyber-attack on LinkedIn, which affects as many as 6.5 million users, came on the heels of a discovery that LinkedIn’s mobile app on Apple devices tracked users’ calendar events and synched them to its server without users’ knowledge, a practice that could violate Apple’s privacy regulations.

    The encrypted password hash codes, which can be deciphered to uncover users’ passwords, could give the hacker access to users’ accounts once the codes are cracked, according to IDC tech industry analyst Al Hilwa.

    “Some of the passwords that were compromised correspond to LinkedIn accounts,” the company confirmed in a blog post on its site Wednesday. In another post, LinkedIn urged users “never change your password by following a link in an e-mail, since those links might be compromised and redirect you to the wrong place.” The company also said it would send users of the affected accounts instructions on how to reset their passwords and that these instructions would be devoid of any links.

    LinkedIn did not respond to requests for further comment.

    Late Wednesday, eHarmony said the passwords of a “small fraction” of its users had also been compromised. The site, which says it has more than 20 million registered online users, did not say how many had been affected. But tech news site Ars Technica said it found about 1.5 million passwords leaked online that appeared to be from eHarmony users.

    It’s unclear who was behind the hacking, but several tech analysts encouraged users to change passwords on the sites and create unique passwords for every social-media account. “If you have the same password on multiple accounts, change them right now,” said Karen McDowell, information security analyst for the University of Virginia. “If the hackers get one password and all of your passwords are the same, they’re going to have” access to all your information.

    Rep. Mary Bono Mack, R-Calif., said in a statement the LinkedIn incident underscores the importance of passing data-protection legislation and that it forecasts a shaky future for online consumerism.

    “How many times is this going to happen before Congress finally wakes up and takes action?” said Bono Mack, who chairs a House Commerce subcommittee that oversees privacy issues. “More people are becoming antsy about providing their personal information online, and that’s not good for the future.”
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