Bulletin: FL000118

Date:
October 20, 2006
To:
All Issuing Offices in Florida
RE:
Identity Theft Ring

Dear Associates:

This is to make you aware of an international fraud scheme being perpetrated on property owners, lenders and the title industry in Florida.  The properties affected include vacant and improved residential and commercial properties, which are mostly owned free and clear.  The property owners reside outside of the State of Florida and in some instances have listed the properties for sale through the local Multiple Listing Service. 

The suspects, after assuming the identity of the record title owners and establishing a physical mailing address near the property, will contact a mortgage broker or Lender to initiate a refinance.  Once loan approval is secured, the perpetrator will contact another title to agent to handle the closing.  The title agent is instructed to email the closing documents for signature to a "free e-mail address" or in the alternative to a "mail drop" address.  Executed documents are returned to the title agent with written instructions to wire the net proceeds to foreign bank accounts, primarily in Eastern European countries.  The funds are then quickly withdrawn in cash.

More than one transaction is closed on or about the same date, usually within the gap period, using the same property as collateral, but with a different title company and a different lender.  The unsuspecting title agent does not discover the fraud until after the funds have been disbursed to the overseas accounts.

Investigations reveal the following common characteristics:

  • There is no face-to-face contact with the perpetrator. 
  • Settlement agents are being asked to agree in writing to wire proceeds usually exceeding $300,000 to foreign bank accounts located in Greece, The Slovak Republic, Russia, Latvia and elsewhere.
  • All contact addresses are to "mail drop box" locations.
  • All telephone numbers are to pre-paid cell phones and not traceable.
  • All identification provided are fraudulent driver's licenses which do not bear the likeness nor resemble the identity of the victim, the record title holder.

Using a courtesy closer for out of area closings will assure personal contact with the owner and will allow the closer to verify the identity of the person executing documents.  If you are contacted to handle a closing with the above characteristics, please contact your local underwriter.

THIS BULLETIN IS FURNISHED TO INFORM YOU OF CURRENT DEVELOPMENTS. AS A REMINDER, YOU ARE CHARGED WITH KNOWLEDGE OF THE CONTENT ON VIRTUAL UNDERWRITER  AS IT EXISTS FROM TIME TO TIME AS IT APPLIES TO YOU, AS WELL AS ANY OTHER INSTRUCTIONS. OUR UNDERWRITING AGREEMENTS DO NOT AUTHORIZE OUR ISSUING AGENTS TO ENGAGE IN SETTLEMENTS OR CLOSINGS ON BEHALF OF STEWART TITLE GUARANTY COMPANY. THIS BULLETIN IS NOT INTENDED TO DIRECT YOUR ESCROW OR SETTLEMENT PRACTICES OR TO CHANGE PROVISIONS OF APPLICABLE UNDERWRITING AGREEMENTS. CONFIDENTIAL, PROPRIETARY, OR NONPUBLIC PERSONAL INFORMATION SHOULD NEVER BE SHARED OR DISSEMINATED EXCEPT AS ALLOWED BY LAW. IF APPLICABLE STATE LAW OR REGULATION IMPOSES ADDITIONAL REQUIREMENTS, YOU SHOULD CONTINUE TO COMPLY WITH THOSE REQUIREMENTS.

References

Bulletins Replaced:
None
Related Bulletins:
None
Underwriting Manual:
None
Exceptions Manual:
None
Forms:
None