The title insurance fraud lawyers at our law firm have been representing consumers for over 15 years, and they are dedicated to holding those title insurance firms that have engaged in fraudulent practices accountable for their acts. In February 2008, a title insurance fraud class action law suit was filed on behalf of consumers in New York State. The title insurance fraud lawsuit alleged, among other things, that title insurance companies engaged in illegal price fixing and kick back schemes. Title insurance fraud always leads to higher costs for consumers. Nowhere is this truer than in New York State. According to The Wall Street Journal, New Yorkers paid $1.2 billion for title insurance in 2006, more than four times the $260 million paid in 1996. Our title insurance fraud attorneys can make sure that victims of this crime receive the compensation they deserve from title insurance companies that engage in deceptive practices.
Title Insurance Fraud Schemes
Title insurance is required in nearly every real-estate transaction, even when people are refinancing a loan on a home they already own. Title insurance is insurance against loss from defects in title to real property and from the invalidity or unenforceability of mortgage liens. Four companies – Fidelity National Title Group, a unit of Fidelity National Financial Inc.; First American Corp.; LandAmerica Financial Group Inc. and Stewart Title Insurance, a unit of Stewart Information Services Corp. – control 90% of the title insurance business in the United States. What’s more, title insurance can be very complicated and most consumers don’t understand what they are buying. As a result, most people don’t shop around for title insurance, and depend on mortgage brokers and real estate agents for recommendations.
This lack of competition in the title insurance industry, coupled with the lack of knowledge about these products on the part of consumers, create an environment ripe for title insurance fraud. Our title insurance attorneys are very familiar with the title insurance schemes that defraud consumers of millions every year, and can assist those who suspect they have been victimized by unscrupulous title insurers, mortgage brokers and real estate agents.
There are many ways that title insurance companies can defraud consumers, and the title insurance lawyers at our firm have handled cases involving all areas of title insurance fraud. One way title insurers defraud consumers is through illegal kickbacks to mortgage brokers, real estate agents and other individuals consumers rely upon for home buying advice. The New York title insurance class action lawsuit alleges that title insurance companies paid illegal kickbacks to individuals or firms so that they would recommend their services to consumers.
Examinations of title insurers’ financial statements in the course of the fraud lawsuit have revealed millions spent on gifts, auto expenses, and travel and entertainment expenses paid to real estate agents and mortgage brokers in return for referrals. In many instances, such payments are filtered through sham companies in an effort to “launder” the payments and hide the fact that they are truly kickbacks to mortgage brokers and insurers. At best, it is unclear if these fees are proper, and in many cases they are simply illegal.
Illegal Title Kickbacks
These illegal title insurance kickback schemes really hurt consumers. For one thing, they unduly influence the recommendations homebuyers use to choose a title insurance company. Rather than recommending the title insurance company that best fits the need of a consumer, real estate agents and mortgage brokers may funnel business to those that provide the most lucrative kickbacks. And title insurance companies pay for such kickbacks by increasing their rates to consumers.
The New York title insurance fraud class action lawsuit also alleges that the companies engaged in illegal price fixing. Title insurance rates in New York are set by an industry group, which submits them to state regulators for review. The New York title insurance fraud lawsuit alleges that these rates overcharge consumers because they conceal from regulators referrals and other payments that make up much of the cost of a title policy. As results, homeowners can end up paying thousands more in closing costs than what is really appropriate. The title insurance fraud lawyers at our law firm are experts in helping hundreds of people recoup these types of overcharges from deceptive title insurance companies
Other types of title insurance fraud do not have as far reaching effects as price fixing and kickback schemes. But to individual consumers, even small scale title insurance fraud can have devastating consequences. Take the example of escrow fraud. Title insurance companies generally act as settlement agents. As such, they must establish and maintain escrow accounts which contain assets held in trust. There have been cases where some individuals have defrauded consumers of funds that were to be held by title insurance companies in escrow. In one criminal case, it was determined that an unscrupulous title insurance agent misappropriated in excess of $1.1 million from the escrow accounts and to among other things, purchase vehicles and take lavish vacations. The title insurance fraud attorneys at our firm have seen a wide variety of title insurance fraud and have helped many consumers in their fight against deceptive title insurance companies, mortgage brokers and real estate agents.
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