George Strong, FBI Supervisory Special Agent, and John Pearson, Assistant U. S. Attorney, addressed members of the Houston Mortgage Bankers Association at their September 13 meeting held at Maggiano’s restaurant. HMBA President Joe Thompson introduced Strong and Pearson whose presentations focused on fraud awareness for mortgage bankers, title companies and realtors.
Strong, who heads the FBI Complex Crimes Division in Houston, noted that the emergence of non-financial institution lenders has complicated mortgage fraud investigation because those lenders are not subject to the same scrutiny as traditional lenders. “SAR (Suspicious Activity Reports) are down because we don’t get as many from non-financial lenders even though they are supposed to file them just like traditional lenders,” he said. “As mortgage bankers, title company officers and realtors, you are our front line of defense for a ‘heads-up’ when something is not right.”
According to Strong, cases of mortgage fraud are down but the dollar amounts are up. Origination and reverse-occupancy fraud schemes persist, but one of the fastest-growing problems is wire transfer fraud. “The crooks hack into and take over email accounts for mortgage companies and title companies. They make one small change in the email address, no one notices, and they divert the funds from the wire transfer. Unsecured emails are a huge soft spot, and most banks and title companies really need to increase their internal controls.”
Pearson, U. S. Attorney Deputy Criminal Chief in Houston, also stressed the importance of cooperation and communication whenever something appears to be out of the ordinary. “We are a resource,” he said. “Pick up the phone and call us with questions and concerns. If you see something, say something, because you may well catch a crime in the making before we do.”