Mortgage fraud up 276%: How you can avoid being a victim

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There is something about human nature that when times get tough, crooks get more bold. Such is the case with mortgage-related fraud.

The FBI is reporting that there is an estimated 276% leap in mortgage-related fraud cases over last year. The agency is keeping tabs on more than 174,000 new cases from coast to coast -- though California, Arizona, Michigan and Nevada seem to be among the most hard hit areas.

"From foreclosure frauds to subprime shenanigans," says the FBI website, "mortgage fraud is a growing crime threat that is hurting homeowners, businesses, and the national economy."

How to protect yourself

If it weren't so easy to become a victim of mortgage-related fraud, there wouldn't be such a long list of victims, right? Nonetheless, the FBI says there are steps you can -- and should -- take to at least minimize the chances of being caught off guard.
  • Get referrals for real estate and mortgage professionals when you want to buy or sell a home;
  • Do your own research into what other homes in the neighborhood have sold for;
  • Don't let anyone talk you into making a false statement on your loan application;
  • Never sign a blank document containing blank lines

All sounds like pretty basic stuff.

While the FBI and other agencies stand ready to help should you become a victim of mortgage-related fraud, it is so much better if you avoid it altogether by taking these fairly simple precautions.

Charles Feldman is a journalist , media consultant and co-author of the book, "No Time To Think, The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-hour News Cycle."

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