East-end realtor offers tips to save buyers, owners from house-sale fraud

'These scammers know what to look for,' Patrick Rocca says

A "sold" sign on the lawn in front of a house
Realtor Patrick Rocca has legitimately been selling homes in the Leaside area for more than 25 years. He says recent housing scams in Toronto are due to realtor sloppiness. (Courtesy of Patrick Rocca) 

A longtime Leaside real-estate agent says recent incidents of home-sale scams in Toronto are related to housing agents and other professionals not doing their jobs.

“A lot of what’s going on with this fraud, in my opinion, has to do with a lot of incompetence in terms of agents, lawyers and banks [not] doing their due diligence,” said Patrick Rocca, a realtor in the east end with more than 30 years of experience.

Over the past year, more than 30 homes have been sold in the GTA without the owners’ consent. According to investigations revealed by CBC, organized crime groups have been using fraudulent funds, stolen IDs, and fake stand-ins to falsely claim ownership of these homes.

In most cases, both the buyers and real homeowners have title insurance, which protects both parties from fraud, the CBC said. But with this type of crime on the rise, creating an increase in claims, some insurance companies are left reconsidering whether this coverage will be included in their policies in the future.

House scam in The Beach

The CBC story shared the story of a home-sale fraud that took place in the east end.

In December 2021, a family sought assistance from a local brokerage to rent out their house near Kew Gardens. With the help of two real estate agents, they found suitable tenants.

However, it was later discovered that the “tenants” had used fake IDs and bogus references during the screening process.

A few weeks after the lease agreement was signed, the family was informed that the house had been listed for sale by someone posing as the owner of the house, the CBC reported.

The family was successful in stopping this fraudulent attempt to sell their house, but this is just one of several scams that have taken place this year within the Greater Toronto area.

Ask the right questions, Rocca advises realtors and buyers

Realtor Patrick Rocca (Courtesy Patrick Rocca)

Rocca said realtors must be diligent in their work, and ask questions to confirm the legitimacy of their clients’ claims.

“I mean when you’re talking with people, it’s clear whether or not they own the house,” he said. “You can ask about the neighbours and the neighbourhood,” said Rocca. “The owner should be able to say what the good schools are, what the best restaurants are … if they can’t answer those questions, there’s a problem, there’s red flags.”

And what can homeowners do to protect themselves? “Make sure your lawyer does his proper title search, ask questions if you’re buying a house, and get title insurance.”

Rocca also said scammers are not targeting the average person. “These scammers know what to look for. They’re not looking for the average joe who’s living in their house, 365 days a year,” he said. “They’re looking at houses with no mortgage, people that are living abroad.”

Susan Lengyel has been a homeowner in East York for more than 20 years.

“It’s scary, it’s really scary knowing that someone could even do that,” she said.

On Jan. 27, police said they charged a Markham woman, 41 and two Toronto men both 22, in a title fraud investigation.

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Posted: Feb 23 2023 9:00 am
Filed under: Crime Homes and Real Estate News