Earlier this week, federal prosecutors charged 19 suspects in a nationwide mortgage scam that robbed cash-strapped homeowners of their home equity and title, reports the Los Angeles Times. The defendants defrauded homeowners using foreclosure rescue pitches and so-called equity stripping schemes to steal $12.6 million and obtain the titles to more than 100 homes. In one variation of the alleged crime, the defendants contacted homeowners who were behind on their mortgage payments and offered to help them avoid foreclosure.
Financial institutions are on pace to report 60,000 incidents of suspected mortgage fraud this year, up from 28,000 in 2005, the Times reports. The FBI says “house stealing,” which involves both identity theft and mortgage fraud, is the newest crime hurting homeowners. In one variation of the scam, crooks target a property — often a vacation home or rental property — and steal the owner’s identity. After they transfer the property deed to themselves, they sell it and pocket the profits, without the knowledge of the original owners.