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FBI: Mortgage Fraud Still Prevalent, Hard To Catch

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Mortgage fraud remains widespread in the depressed housing market, with perpetrators motivated by high profits and little risk of getting caught, the FBI said Friday.

The FBI’s annual report on mortgage fraud said such schemes are particularly resilient and hard to discover, and their total cost is unknown. Real estate firm CoreLogic says more than $10 billion in loans were made with fraudulent application data in 2010, the report noted.

Fraud last year stayed at levels seen in 2009 as the housing market remained in distress, providing ample opportunity for schemes, the report said. It predicted that perpetrators would “continue to seek new methods to circumvent loopholes and gaps in the mortgage lending market.”

“These methods will likely remain effective in the near term, as the housing market is anticipated to remain stagnant through 2011,” the FBI said. The bureau’s pending investigations into mortgage fraud increased 12 percent last year over 2009, officials said.

The most prevalent schemes involve falsifying financial information to qualify buyers who otherwise would be ineligible for a loan. Other crimes involve inflated appraisals, including schemes that use dishonest appraisals to sell homes at elevated prices.

Some get-rich-quick schemes persuade investors to buy rental property or land believing the price will appreciate quickly.

The FBI says the crimes are committed by licensed and unlicensed brokers, loan officers, real estate agents, appraisers and other industry insiders who use their expertise to exploit vulnerabilities in the system. Organized crime groups are also behind some of the fraud, the report said.

“Mortgage fraud enables perpetrators to earn high profits through illicit activity that poses a relative low risk for
discovery,” the report said.

The top states for mortgage fraud last year were California, Florida, New York, Illinois, Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, Texas, Georgia, Maryland and New Jersey, the FBI reported.

The agency says it is dedicating resources to combat the threat, including an initiative launched in June 2010 called Operation Stolen Dreams that targeted mortgage fraud throughout the country.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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