Excerpts from the Panel Discussion Held Sat. March 19 and sponsored by The Brownstoners of Bedford-Stuyvesant
Gloria Sandiford: What forms of property or deed fraud do you see taking place in your office?
Richard Flateau: I’ve been in real estate for about 20 years. Our office is at 3688 Decatur Street near Malcolm X. I would say there are two or three kinds of forms of schemes that I’ve noticed. One would be just outright forgeries where somebody just forged somebody’s name. Sometimes it can be within a family, other times it can be a predator, so it can be either one. Second one I would say would be misrepresentations or fraud, so that’s where someone doesn’t really understand what they’re signing and a lot of times they don’t have an attorney, which I’m going to talk about maybe for the second round, but that’s a major problem. People feel that this isn’t their money, they don’t have an attorney, or they have an attorney that’s really the attorney for the predator. And then the last thing I will say will be defective filing, so people might file something where there’s no signature. There’s just a lot of laxity within the city register’s office, so there are a lot of things that can take place that really shouldn’t take place.
DET. RUSSO: Good morning, my name is Detective Russo, and I oversee the Deed Fraud Unit at the New York City Sheriff’s Office. Every complaint and city registry referral comes through me. I review it and basically we conduct our criminal investigations and go after the predators that prey on these people and yourselves who are the vulnerable and in financial distress. Some of the scams that are very common and unfortunately we have a very limited amount of time up here, so I can’t really delve into each particular scam but if certain words are presented to you: foreclosure rescue, loan modification, we can help you with that; short sales, cash for keys, these are all red flags. You must pay very close attention to these words. Foreclosure rescues, you know, we all have trials and tribulations and we ask Jesus for a miracle. Jesus does not arrive in a white Mercedes with a paper bag and $20,000. Ok?
We have to be aware that this is a scam and has nothing to do with intelligence, nothing. It has to do with the sophistication of the predators. They know how to word things. They know how to present it and they know how to execute it. We just have to be aware of what they’re bringing to the table. Foreclosure rescues are not existent at least from what I’ve seen through these individuals who knock on your door.
Loan modifications and short sales, they come to you, we can help you sign some paperwork authorizing me to contact the bank, that modification is denied, the short sale is never even presented to the bank. What did you sign? You signed your deed over and it’s very, very difficult for me to bring it to the District Attorney’s Office with an authentic signature because it is our responsibility to read and have an attorney review the documents that we sign.
I wish I could get more into it and better educate everybody but these are the things I need you to be aware of because these are the items that come across my desk. Once you sign the deed, you may find that you get some notices, 10-day notices. Very, very important. They may be fraudulent, eviction notices, fraudulent. They come and show you a deed and say, you have to get out. We’ll give you a $5,000 relocation fee, you know these are all things that you must be very aware of. If they come and change your locks, they’ve done this. They go to peoples’ homes and change their locks. And then they call the police and they produce the deed as executed by you and the police are not there to discuss who’s the rightful owner. The police don’t know about deeds. They’ll tell you it’s a civil matter, you’ll have to go to court and they’ll evict you or at least remove you from the premises because the rightful owner is there.
Jacqueline Griffin: At The Center for New York City Neighborhoods we work with and connect homeowners to free, high-quality housing and legal services. And what we’ve seen a lot of are scams in the context of foreclosure or people who are in financial distress and oftentimes you know this can involve seniors or a household where there’s many different generations living in a house.
And in the context of foreclosure we have people who are very worried they’re going to lose their house and they’re looking for help. They’re ashamed maybe to talk to their neighbors or church about where to go to get the right help and people target them because you know their foreclosures are publicly processed in New York so they’re on lists where they can actually find their address. And then sell them a bunch of false promises telling them we can help you, sign this, this is a loan modification, congratulations, just sign here, you got it, or something like transfer your house over to me and then I’m going to sell it back to you when you know you can repair your credit, which is nonsense.
And, anyways, there are a lot of different ways of tricking a homeowner who’s at risk for foreclosure into signing over their deed whether they know they’re doing it or not. So that’s why it’s really important to us here that everyone leaves at the end of the –knowing that you can get good help,– you should not talk to these people. You know the best help is free help.
Richard Farrell: The key types of scams that are going on and the ways that people are being taken advantage of, we’re also seeing the promise of cash, especially targeting people whose houses are underwater and they’re facing foreclosure; someone will say, here’s 10,000 dollars. This is what we’re going to make and I’ll give you the rest of the money after we finalize the paperwork. For someone who is, you know, maybe their home is underwater or they’re having a tough time making ends meet or their behind on their water bills, their tax bills or their mortgage payments; that promise of actual cash in hand, $5,000, $10,000, $15,000 dollars to them is really enticing when you feel like you have no other options. And know they’re taking that deal, they’re signing things they don’t understand and then they end up finding themselves to be in a much worse position. They lose their home and they don’t get the full profit they’re promised by these scam artists. So it’s that offer of cash that we’re seeing a lot of in our office. You have to be really careful of.
Assemblywoman Annette Robinson: I want you to know that for almost a decade now that we have provided resources such as the Bridge Street Development Corporation of Impact, which was called Bridge Community Council, also NHS, Neighborhood Housing Services, and also the Bridge of the Bedford-Stuyvesant Legal Services. We have over the past years continued to provide the kind of counseling services that Mr. Grannum described. However, in doing that, many other people in the community continue not to avail themselves of the services, so as a result of that, we find ourselves coming up short and find ourselves in this condition this morning that we are all here because people will come to me whether it’s in church or in the community and say, I want to talk to you, I’m having a problem with my house. But unfortunately, they don’t follow up. And so we have in our community people who are stalking our elderly. They’re stalking our elderly to the extent that they will come in your yard and press to come into your house. That’s what’s going on as well and those kinds of questions and concerns come to my office as well. So therefore, we need to be aware of all of these situations because we are being preyed upon in this community. We must pay attention. Sometimes our sons and daughters are not paying attention to what’s happening to their parents and as a result of that they are being preyed upon and end up in certain situations because they become so fearful of what is going on with them.
Detective Russo: Evictions and judgments can look 100 percent authentic. You would never know unless you have the eye and know what you’re looking for, you’d never know that it’s not authentic. In fact, they’re forging judges’ signatures. Supreme Court orders are being forged. All these items need to be questioned. If you are not in communication with any legitimate parties to transfer your deed or you had no idea that you transferred your deed, anybody that comes to your house suggesting that they own the property is obviously not a person you sold it to because you’d know if you sold a house. We all know if we sold a house.
Cash for key, this is a good scam. I call it a good scam because they make it very believable. So they’ll show up at your door in that pretty white Mercedes with 10 or $20,000 dollars in cash in a paper bag and they’ll tell you, I’ll produce a great deal for you. You’re having hard times. Take this cash, relocate. We’ll fix the house. I’ll list it, I’ll sell it and then we’ll split the profit. Bottom line is this: Very, very difficult to prove in court that it was a fraudulent deal because you signed it. You clearly knew that they were going to sell it. You clearly knew they were going to fix it. It was a deal that went wrong and it’s a very, very difficult task for myself as well as the District Attorney’s Office, who is there to help us and they know that this was criminal but we have to prove, prove it in court, very, very difficult.
Then it comes up that the problem becomes your problem in civil court. You have to get an attorney. You have to sue them in civil court. That’s very, very costly and what other people, what kind of people are they preying on, the people who are in financial distress, the people they know that they cannot sue them in court. They know this. They know exactly what your background is. They know your relatives, who owns the house, who’s owned it, how much you owe, and that’s who they target. So it’s very important that you read the documents that you, that they’re giving to you. Never, ever sign anything on the spot–ever. Have an attorney, very important, have your own attorney. So I will stop here for this round and maybe go onto the next round.
Richard Flateau: I just, I wanted to add something. I think that Ms. Russo, the detective, really outlined a lot of the scams, but I wanted to elaborate a little bit on the profile of the victim, so you know frequently, some of this has already been said, but frequently they’re going to be senior citizens, usually somebody financially distressed, but not always. Sometimes the predator may be looking for a house that has deferred maintenance, or a house where people haven’t shoveled, or a house where it looks like it’s been empty for a while, maybe people moved away. They also look for people in the family who may be either on drugs or alcoholics. So they look for a weak link within the family. So those are just some of the things I wanted to add in terms of what the profile would be for victims.
Annette Robinson: Just to to echo what has just been said, the money that supports these programs came from the banks that have been bad acts. The banks that have been bad actors that have been victimizing people within our communities, this is where the money comes from. We said we have to, they have to pay. So how do they pay? They have to fund services so the attorney general and the governor’s office have funded these programs so that they can protect you. Now when she says that they represent, they go to court on your behalf. They go to court on your behalf, folks. You have to understand this. They go to court on your behalf because you have to be represented because perhaps you don’t have the resources to get an attorney, that’s why we have these programs and services in place. Bridge Street Development Corporation, Impact, Neighborhood Housing Services and Bedford-Stuyvesant Legal Services, they’re right here in this building. The money has come in. Some people come in, some people don’t. I can’t encourage you enough to use these services. They have expanded their reach. Because of a consolidation, they have expanded their reach with more attorneys to be able to assist you. So please community, please take advantage of the resources that are before you right now. We don’t know – we have an election coming up and let’s be real. We have an election coming up. We don’t know what’s going to be available the next time around. There’s money that’s there right now. We’re trying to engage that money. People have not moved forward to go and engage in the process to do the modifications. And I know there have been some challenges with that, but these organizations help to cut through the red tape to be able to assist you to get what you need to be whole.
For entire transcript of panel, click here.