Michigan Legislature Responds to Growing Problem of Mortgage and Real Estate Fraud

Opportunities for the unscrupulous to concoct any number of scams involving both commercial and residential real estate transactions have been, and always will be, with us. Such things as falsified documents, illegal kick-backs, fraudulent appraisals, and so on, have been around for a very long time. Predatory lending and rescue scams are some of the new ones.

Current transactions involve distressed sales, foreclosures and short sales
While some believe that with the downturn in the economy there is not much going on with real estate these days, it is actually just the opposite. Unfortunately, the bulk of current transactions involve some sort of distressed sale, including foreclosed properties and short sales. These transactions take more time to close, are much more complicated and provide enhanced opportunities for fraud.

New statutory amendments to address growing fraud
While many have lost their homes, and the economy as a whole has suffered from unprecedented losses in the mortgage and real estate markets, others
have found new and innovative ways to profit, sometimes illegally. In response, this past October the Michigan legislature passed, and Governor Snyder signed into law, a number of statutory amendments to address the growing problem of real estate and mortgage fraud. They include the following:

  • Amendments to the Penal Code that provide that any person who falsely makes, alters, forges or counterfeits a deed, discharge of mortgage, power of attorney or other document that affects an interest in real property is guilty of a felony;
  • Creates as a felony the new crime of residential mortgage fraud with penalties including fines, imprisonment and forfeiture of property used in connection with the crime, as well as invalidation of the fraudulent transaction;
  • Increases the maximum prison terms for crimes involving obtaining money by false pretenses; and
  • A ten (10) year statute of limitations for crimes involving false pretenses in connection with real property transactions, mortgage fraud, falsifying or forgery involving documents affecting an interest in real property.

Michigan Notary Public Act
In addition, the Michigan Notary Public Act has been amended to provide that it is now a felony punishable by a maximum fine of $5,000 and/or imprisonment for up to 4 years if a person knowingly violates the Notary Public Act when notarizing any document relating to an interest in real property or a mortgage.

All of these amendments take effect January 1, 2012. If you believe that you have been a victim of, or witness to, a fraudulent real estate transaction or mortgage fraud, please contact the Consumer Protection Division of the Michigan Attorney General’s office at 877-765-8388 or visit the Attorney General’s website.

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