Real estate fraud is a persistent problem in Florida and especially in Tampa Bay’s real estate market. Local law enforcement and the FBI report over $6.2 million in losses in 2021 due to real estate fraud in the overall Tampa market – and say that dollar figure is on the conservative end. An explosion of fraudulent rental schemes, mortgage refinance scams, fake deeds, and other fraud types have plagued the Tampa Bay region as fraudsters grow more sophisticated.
Some common types of fraud that have drawn the attention of local, state, and federal officials in recent years include:
Fake Rental Schemes
Increasingly, scam artists are advertising properties for rent that they do not even own or have authority to rent out. The advertised listing looks just like any other rental property listing, though sometimes with too-good-to-be-true rental prices compared to similar properties. The scammers will then have prospective renters pay “application fees” by check or credit card, or even accept deposits and first month’s rent for the unavailable property. Rental scams in Tampa use these and other tactics to take money from innocent people looking for places to live in a tough market. Law enforcement agencies sometimes have a hard time catching these fly-by-night criminals.
Some ways to avoid rental scams, according to the FBI, include:
- Requesting copies of a rental application from a landlord (or purported landlord). If they cannot provide a rental application, this is a red flag.
- Call the property manager or housing association, if the property is part of a larger building or group of buildings.
- Do not wire funds to strangers without verifying their credentials.
- Confirm with the Register of Deeds or County Recorder to verify who currently owns the property you are interested in.
Mortgage fraud includes any type of misrepresentation, omission, or use of false financial documents to induce a mortgage lender into issuing a mortgage. Florida Statutes Sec. 817.545 sets out the activities that can constitute mortgage fraud in Florida, which includes using funds from a mortgage lending process a person knew was improper, or filing misstatements, misrepresentations, and omissions with the clerk of the circuit court in their county.
Mortgage fraud can be punished as a second-degree felony or third-degree felony in Florida, depending on the facts involved. This means serious repercussions – including potential prison time – for those charged and convicted of this crime.
Home Equity Fraud
Home equity scams frequently include scammers gaining access to a homeowner’s information, then using that to fraudulently apply for a home equity line of credit (HELOC) loan. They will locate a home that has sufficient equity or is paid off to apply for the line of credit and “skim” from the home’s equity. This can be done without the actual homeowner’s knowledge, or by inducing them into a scheme where the fraudster receives the true benefit of the HELOC loan.
If You Have Been Charged With Any Type of Real Estate Fraud, the Tampa Criminal Defense Attorneys at Trombley & Hanes Can Help
The eyes of law enforcement and the FBI are on real estate fraud schemes in Florida, and sometimes a person can find themselves accused after a mistake or misunderstanding. With the consequences of a conviction for real estate fraud being severe and career-damaging, a person charged with any of these crimes needs an attorney that knows the stakes involved and knows the law inside and out. At Trombley & Hanes, our Tampa white collar crime lawyers have decades of experience in both the federal and state courts of Florida, handling a wide variety of fraud defense cases. If you have any questions about your defense strategy, call our office at 813-229-7918, or visit our firm online today.