Scammers need victims, and a recent move by Zillow will make it easier for fraudsters to target the most vulnerable people in neighborhoods all over the country.
Foreclosure rescue scams target homeowners facing foreclosure with services or advice promising to stop or delay the foreclosure process. These scams prey on the vulnerability of individuals who are in danger of losing their homes. Some of these scams require homeowners to transfer their home's title or make monthly mortgage payments to the purported "rescuer." Victims may lose thousands of dollars in fabricated fees, and risk losing their homes as well.
The U.S. Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) is seeing an increase in these types of crimes, as reported in the news release dated October 9, 2012 and available here:http://www.fincen.gov/news_room/nr/html/Q22012/20121009.html
How is Zillow making it easier?
By making pre-foreclosure information available on the web, for free, to anyone willing to sign up for a Zillow account.
That includes not only details about the house and sales history; more importantly, it provides foreclosure details such as a timeline of the foreclosure process, foreclosing loan amount, unpaid balance, the lender's name and trustee and/or attorney information.Â Â
Yes, I am aware that all of this information is a matter of public record. Now it is also on record that I don't think it is a good idea to give scammers a map of victims and all the details they need to impersonate someone from the lender or attorney office involved. Whether they reach out by mail, phone,Â or in person, either way they have an advantage over someone who is suffering in a bad financial situation and may be inclined to grasp at any hope held out to them.
Zillow does acknowledge the danger, and provides a page on their site titled "Don't Fall Prey to Fraudsters".
That isn't likely going to be enough protection for distressed homeowners receiving official-looking letters in the mail, or encountering smooth-talking people at their door.
Zillow wants more people using their site so they can charge real estate agents more money for ads and leads, I get it. Foreclosures are a hot topic, and anything related to distressed propertiesÂ draws in eyeballs. That isn't going to change right away.
All I can do is try to get the word out that many timesÂ IT IS A WOLFÂ at the door, and folks need to be careful about who they consult when their home and their futureÂ are at stake.
Jim Sweat, ABR, CRS,
CDPE, GRI, e-PRO, ILHM
Author of REAL
ESTATE CSI: CONTROVERSY, SECRETS & INSIGHT (availalable early 2013)
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