By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

Buyers and sellers aren’t the only victims of real estate scams and crimes. Realtors are also a favorite target of crooks, criminals, and other shady types.

Due to the nature of the real estate business, agents naturally come in contact and work with strangers on a regular basis. Most real estate deals involve big ticket transactions and that adds to the risk of dealing with unfamiliar people.

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve highlights a few scams aimed at buyers and sellers. Realtors often get caught in the web of these deceptions as well. They just add to crimes that focus on these professionals.

After quizzing a few Realtors, here are just some of the scams going around lately:

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By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

The internet can be both an ally and an adversary to today’s home seller. When it comes to scams and cons, homeowners are easy prey for professional criminals.

Let’s face it. When selling real estate, you are inviting strangers into your home. Figuratively with online photos, maps, and more. And literally when they come to view your property. You and your home are exposed for the world to see.

Being aware of the scams aimed at sellers is the first step to stopping them in their tracks. These are some of the most popular swindles I’ve heard about in the past year:

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By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

Remember privacy? It’s what most Americans enjoyed a few decades ago. Today, it’s elusive and rare. It’s simple for any of us to find just about anyone with a few clicks on a keyboard.

In an effort to reduce the solicitations for carpet cleaning, bogus tax filing services, mortgage insurance scams and such, I tried to make the information on my recent home purchase a little more private. The result was somewhat effective.

How do these companies and salespeople find out you’ve purchased a property? It’s highly unlikely that they got it from the title company or real estate broker. We don’t share information with third parties unless we must. Government entities are about the only ones we disclose details.

However, property owner information is public and online in Texas. Our county tax appraisal sites allow people to search the owner of a property by property address or owner name. It’s pretty hard to make your ownership information private on those county web sites. But, I’ll explain how below:

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Background Checks

By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

When buying or selling a home, get ready to reveal some private details through background checks. We’re going to pry, inspect, confirm, clarify, authenticate, and document a lot about you, your finances, and the property. Some of the surprises we unearth would shock your mother, but maybe not your banker.

Just how deep do the folks involved in your transaction probe? Well, there isn’t any kind of testing that involves getting ink on your fingers or peeing in a cup. Nor do we care about your driving record, your education level, your health, or your résumé.

But we will start with requiring your Social Security number and date of birth. We’ll also need to know your past and present marital status, and where you plan to reside after the sale.

As a seller, we’ll run a search of both your name and the property. When something unexpected pops up, like an Abstract of Judgement, a tax debt, or a couple of child support liens, we’ll tell you. This would be the time to ensure your spouse is aware of it as well.

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For those who are laundering ill-gotten gains via real estate transactions, regulators are about to make life much, much harder. 

Geographic Targeting Orders (GTO) are temporary regulations put in place by the U.S. Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). The overall point of the orders is to understand and curtail money laundering, tax evasion, and terrorism financing on certain types of transactions. “Geographic” means the orders target specific areas versus the entire country.

On Nov. 15, FinCEN expanded a GTO on residential real estate transactions purchased in cash (actual cash, various checks, and virtual currencies) by foreign shell companies and domestic LLCs mostly. This latest expansion now includes the Dallas-Fort Worth area along with 11 other metros – Boston; Chicago; Honolulu; Las Vegas; Los Angeles; Miami; New York City; San Antonio; San Diego; San Francisco; and Seattle.

The GTO requires Title Companies to not only report on the transaction, but the actual selling price and the identity of the beneficial owner of the property (person with over 25 percent ownership of the LLC) and the person representing the LLC. Identities are verified via copies of passports, driver’s license, or other government-issued I.D. The country of origin of the LLC or shell company is immaterial with reporting required regardless of the LLC’s incorporation location. Why title companies? They’re a common element in real estate transactions and so act as a clearing house for information.

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By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

Even though the services offered and fees charged by title companies across Texas are standardized, there is some variation in how they operate. Just as real estate brokerages and real estate agents vary in their operating standards and styles, so do title companies.

Title companies in Texas have three basic roles. They include completing a title search, closing the transaction (which includes preparing paperwork, managing funds, recording, etc.), and issuing title insurance. All licensed Texas title agencies perform these roles.

The basic kinds of title companies you’ll find in the Dallas area include:

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By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

Texas Department of Insurance (TDI) recently released the 2016 Title Agent Statistical Report. Yes, this is now the summer of 2018, so those stats are a bit dated. What can I say? It’s a government agency.

TDI licenses and oversees all title agents in Texas. Our state’s title insurance business is highly regulated and title companies are audited at least every 2 years. Every agency must account for every dime they take in and every dollar they spend.

Take a glance at this 326-page report and you can see why it could take months to compile this information. The report covers every title agency’s income, expenses, and losses. The majority of title companies on the list are Independent Agents. The others are either Affiliated Agents or Direct Operations.

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By Lydia Blair
Special Contributor

The title industry competes for real estate dollars just like mortgage companies, real estate brokers, and insurance agencies. Competition to be the chosen one is just as fierce and the stakes are just as high.

Changes that rippled through the industry in 2015, when the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) went into effect, also addressed the regulation about who has the right to choose the title company in a real estate transaction. This rule has actually been around for a while, but is now being regulated and enforced. Which means fines are also assessed to the rule breakers.

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