Monday, April 17, 2006

Woman a victim of mortgage fraud

House bought from her after signature forgedA serious problem in GTA, says title insurance officialApr. 13, 2006. 11:10 AMHAROLD LEVYSTAFF REPORTEREarlier this year, Susan Lawrence discovered that the 100-year-old Victorian home she had been living in for 30 years had been stolen by identity thieves.The North York widow had been blissfully unaware the thieves had used her forged signature to purchase the house from her and discharge a mortgage she had put on the property.They had then put a new mortgage on the property for almost $300,000, pocketed the money, defaulted on the mortgage, faded out of sight, and left her facing eviction.Lawrence soon learned she had become a victim of mortgage fraud — one of the growing number of people in the Greater Toronto Area who are being victimized by real estate savvy swindlers."I just could not believe it, and anybody I talked to couldn't believe it either," Lawrence said in an interview. "They all asked, `How could anybody sell your house from right under you?'"To make matters worse, Lawrence had contracted to sell the home, which she no longer owned, to a young couple.Lawrence discovered something was wrong when she went to her bank to discuss her mortgage in view of the pending sale and was told the bank could find no record of it."The clerk told me not to worry because it must be a mistake," Lawrence says. "A week later the bank called to say I was a victim of fraud."Susan Leslie, a senior official of First Canadian Title, a title insurance firm, says mortgage fraud has become a serious problem in the Greater Toronto Area and throughout Canada, and that it is on the rise."Quite frankly, these fraudsters are one step ahead of us," Leslie said. "As housing prices rise, this becomes a very lucrative crime."The Law Society of Upper Canada says in a report that mortgage fraud has also proliferated because people can borrow large amounts of money without having to meet anyone in person — and vast amounts of information about properties and homeowners are now available through Ontario's electronic land registry system.The Law Society also noted that increased competition within the mortgage industry leads to pressure to close a deal without taking all of the steps necessary to determine if it's legitimate.Lawrence says that when she got in touch with Toronto lawyer Morris Cooper, she expected to hear that the law would help her out of her predicament because she was the innocent victim of a callous crime.

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