FLORIDA — The Sunshine State is seen by many as ground zero for mortgage fraud in America, ranking at or near the top of the Mortgage Bankers Association’s (MBA) fraud index for the past four years. But if local officials have their way, the state may soon be known as ground zero for multi-agency mortgage fraud task forces.
Most recently, officials from South Florida, which has been especially hard hit by fraud, made the rounds in Washington, D.C., to garner support for a federal bill proposed by Congressman Kendrick Meek to create a national mortgage fraud task force modeled on the one established by Miami Mayor Carlos Alvarez in 2007.
At that time, Alvarez brought together investigators, prosecutors, legislators and business leaders from various South Florida agencies and communities to combat a rampant epidemic of fraud. Since its inception, the Miami-Dade Mortgage Fraud Task Force has made more than 100 arrests.
Under Meek’s bill the national task force — run by the U.S. Department of Justice — would assist regional task forces in states where mortgage fraud is most prevalent and provide training for federal, state and local law enforcement officials.
Many mortgage fraud schemes involve forged documents, fake or improper notarizations and identity theft. As the real estate and mortgage industries have collapsed in the past two years, fraud has risen to an “all time high,” according to the Mortgage Asset Research Institute’s latest report to the MBA. In 2008, Florida ranked second in the nation for mortgage fraud, down from the top spot the previous two years.
Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum said that last year his office received more complaints about mortgage fraud than any other crime. That prompted him to announce recently that he was recruiting a number of state agencies and professional associations to join a statewide fraud task force.