ITRC Solution 28

In general, mortgage identity theft occurs when the individual whose information is being used is NOT party to the financial negotiations or contract. It is a federal crime to misrepresent any information in connection with a loan application. There are two types of mortgage identity theft this ITRC Solution addresses.

  • Fraud for profit: The thief will obtain a loan with the victim’s home as collateral. These types of loans are commonly called equity lines of credit (cashing out) or second mortgages. The home equity loan is most often on the house that you are residing in. Knowledge of an individual’s date of birth, social security number, as well as address makes it easy for victimization to occur.In some extreme cases, the thieves have even transferred ownership into their names and re-sold the home illegally without the owner’s consent. This type of crime will often involve an industry insider. Thieves also target second or vacation homes since this can help them keep up their scams undetected for a longer period of time.
  • Fraud for housing / property: The simple motive behind this type of fraud is to acquire and maintain ownership of a house under false pretenses. A thief will steal someone else’s social security number and other personal information to buy property by using the victim’s good credit and identity.

How can homeowners prevent identity thieves from stealing their property?
FBI officials suggest the following:

  • If you receive any payment books or information from a mortgage company that is not yours — whether your name is on the envelope or not — do not throw it away. Instead, open the envelope, figure out what the documents state, and contact the company.
  • Periodically check all information about your home with the recorder of deeds office in your county. If you find any paperwork you don’t recognize — or any signatures that are not yours — immediately contact your mortgage company and county officials.
  • Check your credit reports regularly.

How to clear your name from a fraudulent mortgage:

  • Place a fraud alert on all three credit reports and request your free copy of your credit reports, due to identity theft. Please refer to ITRC Solution SN 03 – Contacting the CRA’s to Place a Fraud Alert.
  • File an identity theft police report. Use any letters or phone calls from the mortgage company or the information on the credit report as proof. Obtain a physical copy of the police report as soon as possible.
  • DO NOT PAY ANYTHING to the collection agency or mortgage company. Payments can be interpreted as that you are assuming responsibility for the debt.
  • Contact the mortgage company and get the following loan details: loan provider, servicer and borrower. Speak with the Fraud Department and explain that this is a case of identity theft. Never use the words “I want to dispute this account.” You want to get an address to send a fraud affidavit packet.
  • Write to the mortgage company within 30 days. Send them a copy of ITRC Letter Form LF 116 (customized as necessary) along with the necessary documents including a copy of the police report. Request a Letter of Clearance from the mortgage company.
  • Send your statement of fraud, copy of your police report and any supporting documentation to your local county recorder’s office, tax assessor, county clerk, district attorney and the FBI.
  • You may also want to notify the National Notary Association (NNA) if you have notarized stamp on any loan documents or deeds.
  • Send everything Certified Mail Return Receipt Requested. Do not fax them. This way you will have proof they received your documents because you will get back a postcard with their signature on it.

Under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, the lender or collection agency must stop all collection activity during the investigation. They cannot sell, trade, give away, donate, or loan this account to another entity.

Keep a record of everyone you speak to over the phone. In addition, keep all paperwork you receive and make copies of everything you send out.

For more information, contact an ITRC Victim Advisor toll free at 1-888-400-5530 to guide you through the more specific steps needed in your case.

National Resources for Reporting Mortgage Fraud and Scams:
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
http://www.fbi.gov/
(202) 324-3000 – National FBI Financial Institution Fraud Unit

Mortgage Fraud Hotline 1-800-4FRAUD8 (1-800-437-2838)

This solution sheet should not be used in lieu of legal advice. Any requests to reproduce this material, other than by individual victims for their own use, should be directed to itrc@idtheftcenter.org.

ITRC Fact Sheet 301

This ITRC Fact Sheet includes:

  • Facts About Victims of Identity Theft
  • Developing Victim Guide Sheets
  • The Initial Meeting
  • The Victim as a “Limited Partner”
  • Additional Resource Resources

Identity theft is a dual crime. It is fraud against the financial institution and the individual whose personal information has been abused. While the victim may eventually be made whole financially, it will take a tremendous amount of effort on their part, and there will still be residual effects. Just as with victims of violent crimes, physical wounds will heal, however scars remain. Victims of financial crimes experience a similar process. Both their trust and their financial stability have been violated. It is important for law enforcement to recognize that victims of identity theft (and financial crimes in general) are still crime victims. Communicating this fact compassionately and effectively is critical.

This fact sheet contains techniques that will help you to more effectively communicate with victims and build reasonable expectations. By turning victims into assets instead of liabilities, you actually save time and energy during case resolution.

The most frequent issue that victims report to the ITRC pertaining to law enforcement is an inability to obtain that most crucial document – a police report. Many jurisdictions are unaware of the laws in place that mandate this action. The ITRC has an interactive map that outlines the laws state by state. Have a question about the status of your jurisdiction? Click on the map for the answer. This first step, the police report, is critical for mitigation of identity theft cases.

When law enforcement is unwilling or unable to provide victims with a police report, the victim often feels that either the officer does not consider identity theft an important issue, or that the officer does not consider the identity theft victim to be a crime victim, perhaps because in some cases there is no long term financial loss.

The ITRC has worked with many peace officers and we know that the majority of those who work in law enforcement do care. During our communication with victims we reiterate this fact and attempt to set reasonable expectations for law enforcement support, as well help to define the role of law enforcement in the victims mind.

Some Facts About Victims of Identity Theft

• Victims of identity theft, as with any crime, are scared, confused, and have had their trust violated.
• Many victims report that the undermining of their financial health and good name has either permanently impacted their lives or has affected them for years. It is difficult for them to foresee a conclusion to their case when they continue to receive information regarding additional uses of their identifying information after the initial issue appears to have been resolved.
• Most of these people have never been a prior victim of crime, and thus have a limited understanding of the criminal justice system and the investigative process. They can become overly excited, demanding and anxious. They want everything done yesterday.
• Victims can uncover evidence that will be helpful in the case. It may not always be what you need, but it can help. Allowing the victim to become a resource in the investigation could produce positive results.
• Victims should be encouraged to become their own advocates. They need to continue to be a part of the process and feel like they are doing something to regain control. The ITRC helps to communicate self-advocacy to the victim while building reasonable expectations regarding the outcome of their case.

Prior to the Initial Meeting

ITRC recommends that each law enforcement agency develop and send out an Identity Theft Victim Guide, a tri-fold or letter. Many agencies have a communication piece for financial crimes in general and simply include Identity Theft as a facet of this piece.

This document should outline the initial steps for victims, and how to prepare for the investigator’s phone call or visit. This will give victims a chance to get started immediately, fulfilling the desire to “get started now.” The worksheet will help them separate the relevant from the irrelevant and reduce your time spent gathering information during the initial process. This document should be made available to the victim either via mail, fax or website, on the same day the issue is reported.

You may adapt the ITRC Fact Sheet 112 for this purpose. Please contact ITRC if you decide to adapt these guides for your agency’s use either via email at itrc@idtheftcenter.org or via our call center number, 888-400-5530.

Many agencies have developed victim-friendly communication pieces that can be used as a template. Please contact the ITRC for a referrals to other law enforcement entities that have engaged the ITRC in this endeavor and we can provide names and contact information.

After the opening greeting, your victim guide should provide:

• The first few steps a victim should take (examples):

Call the 3 credit reporting agencies, obtain copies of the credit reports, place a fraud alert, identify open fraud accounts and inquiries from companies that have received fraudulent applications.

Notify affected credit card companies and banks, etc. and obtain account numbers and other pertinent information if possible. Try to get copies of all documents and conversations associated with the account.

Identify fraudulent home addresses and other information on your credit report.

• Phone numbers and web sites of resources including the credit reporting agencies.
• A list of some of the initial steps that occur in your department after the complaint is made. This helps victims to understand something is being done. For instance: “At the end of each shift, all reports are read by triage officers and forwarded to the proper investigating department. It typically takes about seven days before you receive a call from us. If you have not heard from us after that time period, please call __________.”
• Recommendations for preparation of initial meeting. Again, the ITRC has fact sheets written for both victims and the people who serve them. Consider adapting ITRC Fact Sheets 106110 and 112 to suit the needs of your organization
• At a minimum, provide victims with the recommendation to keep a journal that includes date of discovery of the fraud, all of their contacts thus far in trying to remediate their case, details regarding potential suspects, and a list of all affected accounts. For example:
Date of Discovery: On XXX date, I received a collection phone call from a creditor for an account that I was not aware of and that I did not open or use. For example:  There are three credit cards that I have never opened on the Experian report.

American Express account 1234567890123465 $___ total charges to date

Visa account 2345678901234567 $___ total charges to date

Discover account 4567890123456789. $___ total charges to date.

Facts about the imposter

I believe that my identity was stolen from an application for a cell phone because I used my middle initial which I have not used on any other applications in the last 2 years. The thefts started within 2 weeks of my filling out the application and all used that same middle initial.

My sister and I look alike and she has a checkered past. I believe she may have something to do with this, but I have not confronted her.

The Initial Meeting

Realize that your agenda and that of your victim may differ. Consider providing a written agenda for the initial meeting to quickly set guidelines and expectations. Also set a time limit for the meeting based upon the amount of time you will need to gather the pertinent info. As previously stated, victims often are wounded and as such will feel the need to talk at length about the episode. Let them know ahead of time how much time you have devoted to their case, and inform them up front. Let them know it’s not because you don’t care, but because you also have many other cases that must be investigated, and you must treat all victims with equal respect and importance.

At the conclusion of the intake interview/meeting, inform the victim candidly regarding the potential outcome of the case. Financial crimes investigations take a great deal of time and effort. They do not move quickly. Ensure the victim is informed of this fact. Additionally, even with exceptional investigative efforts the fact is most of these cases will not result in an arrest or prosecution. The victim needs to understand this as well. If you do not feel the chances are good that the case will end in an arrest, inform the victim so they can begin resetting their priorities (clearing his/her name and credit history). The truth may be difficult for them at first, but better to set the truthful and realistic expectations immediately, rather than have to disappoint them later. Have this difficult conversation at the conclusion of the initial meeting.

Provide the victims with additional resources such as your local Victim/Witness assistance program in your jurisdiction and/or the Identity Theft Resource Center.

Lastly, let the victim know when they can obtain a hard copy of the police report. This report is critical for them to begin the process of remediating their case. Many of the protections under federal and state law do not become affective until the victim has the police report in hand.

The Victim as a “Limited Partner”

This is your case. Clearly, you must be in charge of the investigation. However, almost every victim has an overwhelming need to be actively involved. It is their reputation. It is their credit at risk.

Teach your victims how to work with you effectively. Brief them on what they may and may not do. Set some rules for them to follow and task them with assignments that could provide useful information to you. For example, FCRA’s Section 609e allows them to request a copy of transaction records and the application for fraudulent accounts set up in a victim’s name and Social Security Number. They can also designate a copy be sent to you, potentially saving you time and effort.

Some Final Thoughts

There is no easy answer to identity theft. The law enforcement community and advocacy organizations such as the ITRC must work in tandem in order to achieve the most effective results. If you would like to be a part of this dialogue please contact the ITRC directly as we have many resources within the law enforcement community that have developed robust identity theft programs and processes and are willing to share this information with fellow officers.

RESOURCES YOU MAY LIST ON YOUR GUIDES TO VICTIMS:

• www.idtheftcenter.org
• www.ftc.gov
• www.irs.gov (for victims of government ID theft)

This fact sheet should not be used in lieu of legal advice. Any requests to reproduce this material, other than by individual victims for their own use, should be directed to itrc@idtheftcenter.org.  We thank Sgt. Joseph Dulla (Los Angeles Sheriff’s Dept.), Det. Paul Libassi (San Diego County District Attorney’s Office) and Lt. Brian Blagg (San Diego Police Department) for their insights, advice and as a valued source of information.

ITRC Letter Form 139

ITRC Letter Form 139 is a sample letter to request a senior family member or dependent adult’s credit report from the three credit reporting agencies (CRAs). Please read Fact Sheet FS 139 to know what to include with this letter.

Always send items Certified Mail Return Receipt.

Please DO NOT send the ITRC any personal documents or letter forms as we cannot gather information for you or clear fraudulent activity that may appear.

Click to download the form:

LF 139 Form

Equifax

P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, Georgia 30374

TransUnion

PO Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016

Experian

PO Box 9532
Allen, TX 75013

 

This letter form should not be used in lieu of legal advice. Any requests to reproduce this material, other than by individual victims for their own use, should be directed to ITRC@idtheftcenter.org.

ITRC thanks the CRA’s in providing material for this guide. Copyright, Identity Theft Resource Center®, all rights reserved. Created by ITRC