Another Scam: "Negative Equity? Sell and Get Cash!"

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Notice that it doesn't claim that you can do so legally.

I saw another of these signs on the way to the office this morning.

When things are going sour, there are any number of scam artists who will promise the moon. We had them in the early nineties, and we have a lot more of them now.

Perhaps the largest number of these are flat out liars. They have no ability and no intention of actually delivering whatever they're dangling out there as bait. They're just putting something out there to get you to call, so they can get you into their office and try to do whatever it is that they do. Most of these are probably fishing for victims of a "subject to" scam. Notice that they didn't say they could do it for everyone? "Subject to" deals are illegal, but quite often the lender will let you get away with it. Of course, if they don't, they go after the person who signed the Trust Deed, not the scamster who talked you into it. Note that if they're reasonably careful, the people who are dangling "subject to" deals are legally in the clear. Nor is it illegal (as far as I know) for them to use an advertising hook they have no intention of delivering. Even if it is illegal, it's not like anybody gets charged for the initial handmade sign by the side of the road that's long gone before there's any investigation into what happened.

Even if these people are telling the truth as far as they go, there is something wrong with this scenario.

Either 1) you weren't in a negative equity situation in the first place - you really could sell for at least what you owe on the property, or 2) You are going to commit fraud, and the lender is not going to be happy when they find out. Expect a very unpleasant visit from the FBI, large legal defense fees, and an extended vacation courtesy of Club Fed.

There is no lender in the world that is going to accept a short payoff where the borrower walks away with cash. End of discussion. That's the entire bargain you make with a lender when you borrow money. They get paid every penny they are due first - and you get only the excess, however much - or little - that may be. If their payoff is short, they will not accept you walking away with a single penny from the sale of that property. To do anything else is a violation of securities and banking regulations. The Wicked Witch of Wall Street may be politically dead, but this is one issue that the financial world has developed extreme sensitivity to.

If the lender did not know about this cash that you are supposedly getting, you are going to be committing fraud. The person who sold you this scam is very probably committing fraud as well, but you definitely are committing fraud if you do this. That lender is going to require you, the owner of the property, to sign a statement to the effect that you are not receiving any money that the lender does not know about. So let's add perjury to the list of charges against you, and quite likely conspiracy. Your defense lawyer is going to cost more than any cash you're going to get out of it.

I had someone ask me whether an agent can volunteer to just give you some money from their commission. I'm not a lawyer, but as far as I am aware, it is legal. However, if they're bringing you into their office and getting you to sign up with them to sell their house based upon such a promise while the lender ends up with a short payoff, you are still committing fraud, perjury, and conspiracy when you sign that document that says you're not getting any money from the sale from any source, and that agent is committing at least fraud and conspiracy as well. The whole set-up is pre-arranged, and that give-back is a condition of the transaction that you and the agent are both aware of, but the lender is not. This makes you guilty of those three crimes. My understanding is that In order for the "gift" to pass legal muster, it has to be a pure gift, conceived by the agent with no pre-arrangement, executed for no consideration and no exchange of value on your part. Since that is not the case - they're luring you in with the promise of cash from before they even saw you - it's not going to get past the courts. Furthermore, even if such a gift was a pure gift on the part of the agent, it's not likely that the courts or a jury is going to believe you when there are well-known scams like this going on.

People put these scams out there because they figure they've got an angle whereby they can still make money. I can think of several ways to do so off the top of my head, from using the property as bait to meet buyers (see Tina Teaser) to having you sign an agreement for a very large listing commission, and several ways in-between. All of them involve a violation of that agent's fiduciary duty to you. Show of hands: How many people would sign up with an agent who straightforwardly told you he intended to scam you, and that as a consequence of this transaction, you would be likely to spend several years in prison? Anyone?

It is kind of elegant in a way: The victim of the scam (that would be you) can't complain without putting themselves in line for several years as an involuntary guest of the taxpayers. But it's amazing how often some outside causes the whole thing to unravel. Actually, cancel that. It isn't amazing at all. Real estate and mortgage operations are all a matter of public record, and audits and record keeping are a part of life for anyone in either field. Failure to keep complete records is in itself an offense that practitioners can and do lose their licenses over, and the escrow and title companies have their own record-keeping requirements, and the lender will most certainly keep records. Matter of fact, if they can show you've committed fraud - and you have, make no mistake - then any legal shelter you may have had from their ability to collect the money they lost simply vanishes.

You don't want any of that to happen, and once you do it, you have no defense except to hope that you get unreasonably lucky, and nobody notices until the statute of limitations runs out. The only justification for doing a stupid stunt like this is if it gets you out of a worse predicament. It doesn't. If anything, it makes any existing predicament worse.

Caveat Emptor

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This page contains a single entry by Dan Melson published on April 14, 2008 7:00 AM.

Buyers Who Don't Want A Buyer's Agent was the previous entry in this blog.

Retirement Account Contributions and Mortgage Loan Qualification is the next entry in this blog.

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