An elderly customer, born in 1943, was selling his home and came to the Title/Escrow Office to finalize the transaction. The Escrow Officer had concerns about the seller’s competency, since she had received several phone calls from family members of the customer. The family insisted the elderly customer had been sending money to scammers pretending to be a national giveaway company. They were concerned that with the sale of his home the customer would only send more money to the scammer. However, the customer would not listen to his family and insisted on following through with the sale.
The Escrow Officer questioned the seller about the details of the transaction. The customer seemed competent. He knew what year it was, who the president was, and – on the surface – was generally cognizant and competent to sign. The Escrow Officer pressed further, concerned by the red flags the customer’s family had raised. She questioned the seller about why he was selling his home and how he was going to use the proceeds from the sale. His answer confirmed the suspicions of the customer’s family, although not explicitly. He stated he was selling his property to raise money to send to his “friends” – so ultimately he could earn a big payout they were promising.
Armed with this knowledge, the Escrow Officer decided not to proceed with the closing – even over the seller’s objections. Fortunately, the elderly customer’s family stepped in after the Escrow Officer refused to complete the transaction.
The family petitioned the court for an Order of Temporary Guardianship over the elderly customer – which was granted. The petition claimed the customer had been promised $6.5 million in winnings after first sending thousands of dollars to the scammers. The sale of his home would have been the last step, as he had already placed liens on vehicles. His home was his only remaining asset.
Walking away from a transaction can be difficult. However, in situations such as these there is not only a professional obligation but a personal one to resign. Personally, no Escrow Officer looks to assist with a real estate transaction that ultimately hurts the consumer. Our Company insures each and every transaction which may lead to costly claims. When presented with red flags, as we were in this scenario, we will always ask the questions and talk with our customers.
We have been talking about wire fraud & hackers being a very big issue in the real estate space and this is just one other scenario you should be aware of. As the largest title company in the nation and a Fortune 500 company, Chicago Title is committed to protecting you and we have the resources to do just that! If you would like to learn more about how we can help you, please do not hesitate to reach out!
Guest Author: Scott Cummins, Advisory Director FNTG Title Group/National Escrow Administration