Real Estate Fraud :: a Case Study

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 I got some interesting emails from readers responding to my recent posts on real estate fraud. Here’s one of them (posted w/ permission from the author, with names and minor details changed):



I was approached by an acquaintance, Phil, to invest into a get rich quick scheme. I was to be the buyer and mortgage holder for two houses, but all documents and paperwork would be mailed to Phil’s residence and Phil would be responsible for all mortgage payments and monthly maintenance fees. I was promised a gift of cash in exchange for using my good credit. All was good for several months, and then I started receiving calls from American Servicing Company for non-payment.

Unfortunately, being very trusting of Phil, I did not ask for copies of any documents that I originally signed. Phil kept everything. At this time, I don’t know what to do. Phil does not return any phone calls. As of today, the two residences are unoccupied. Please, any advice is welcome.


First of all, I'm not a lawyer and laws/property codes vary from state to state. This shouldn't be considered legal advice. You need to contact a lawyer.

A couple of things that I would do were I in your situation.

1) Don't ignore the mortgage company. Regardless of what happened between you and Phil it appears you’re currently on the hook for these mortgages. Call the lender.

2) Get ready to go to trial. I understand that you don’t have the paperwork, but you must have some documentation that a deal was done...receipts for cash payment, etc. Get these together, along with a written narrative of what occurred, and discuss these with a lawyer.

Now I'm guessing that one of two things might have happened here....

  • Non-evil Phil case: Phil got all fired up from attending one of those Rich Dad Poor Dad seminars or some other such motivational pep rally. Then, realizing he had no credit, talked you into backing one of his deals. Phil overpaid for the houses, realized he couldn't lease them out, ran out of money, and buried his head in the sand. Now your phone is ringing off the hook as the bankers are looking for their money, which you owe.  It's possible that Phil didn't set out to rip you off, but he abused your trust and, in the end, skipped town. 
  • Evil Phil case: Then again there are lots of ways to rip someone off in a case like this. Example...Phil found a seller selling his house for $100k. Phil offered $110k on the condition that the seller kicked back $10k at closing. The seller got his price, Phil pocketed $10k, and you’re stuck with a $110k mortgage on a house that's only worth $100k. There are many, many other schemes.  It's possible that Phil is a genuine scumball. 

In hindsight (not helpful, perhaps) there are lots of problems that led to this. The most important are a) you got into a deal that you didn't really understand, and b) you can't rely on trust; you need a contract.

This probably isn't much help, but at this point the horse is out of the barn.  Call a lawyer, deal with the mortgage companies, and good luck.

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John Novak
Keller Williams Realty The Marketplace - Las Vegas, NV
Henderson, Las Vegas and Summerlin Real Estate
As much as I want to sympathize with the emailer's situation, this really underscores a lack of basic financial education within the general public. People need to realize that any investment has an element of risk, and if they don't understand the details that it's best to consider other means.
Oct 25, 2007 11:40 AM #1
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