Advance Fee Scammers Are Now Disguising Their Upfront Fees as Appraisal Fees
I received an interesting email this week from a mortgage broker who was pulling his hair out in frustration. Advance fee scammers keep conning his innocent borrowers into sending in large application fees for commercial mortgage loans - and then the scammers disappear without ever delivering the promised loan.
It's not as if the borrower simply did not qualify for the requested commercial loan. The whole act was merely a charade from the very start. The scammer had absolutely no ability to lend millions of dollars. The con man was probably just working off of his laptop from a desk in his short-term rental apartment.
Advance fee scams have been around for years, and most borrowers, investors, and mortgage brokers have learned to be wary of them. But as my mortgage broker put it, "Ah, but scammers are nothing if not resourceful. Many of them have begun to advertise, 'No up front fees whatsoever, just the cost of the appraisal!' Such a deal!"
"Turns out, this is a form of stand up comedy.... What it really means is, they now load their preposterous fees into the cost of the 'appraisals' which, coincidentally, can only be performed by their own, enlightened, specially-designated, one-of-a-kind "appraiser' or 'national appraisal management company'. And of course, with still no reasonable expectation of funding an actual loan..." What he means is that you send in a check for the appraisal, and then the scammer simply keeps it and stops returning your phone calls.
Okay, so what can you do to protect yourself (or your borrower)? Here's a fraud checklist:
- Ask your lender if you can pay the appraisal company directly. While your lender may complain about the additional hassle, if you really push him, a legitimate commercial lender should be willing to bow to your request. Certainly my own commercial hard money shop, Blackburne & Sons, would allow it (after some complaining). The lender will insist on ordering the appraisal himself, in order to avoid collusion between a corrupt appraiser and a bad-intentioned borrower; but a legitimate commercial lender should be willing to allow you to pay the appraiser directly.
- Once the name of the appraisal company is disclosed, check the company out. Are they licensed as either an MAI appraisal firm or at least a General Certified appraisal firm, the minimum required licensing to perform a commercial real estate appraisal? Is their license current and in good-standing? Do they have a website?
- Here is an earlier blog article that I wrote that may help you spot an advance fee scammer.
Be careful out there.
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