Servicers Alerted to Reverse Scams

The reverse mortgage sector has not been overlooked by the scam artists that have pillaged the rest of the mortgage business. But servicers can fight back by thinking like a criminal.

"You don't have to hire a criminal, just think like one," Linda Bridges of Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, Fort Hill, S.C., advised at the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association's Eastern Regional Meeting here.

Some of the red flags mentioned by Ms. Bridges, who runs Wells' reverse mortgage servicing sector, include multiple draws within a single month, hushed voices in the background when borrowers call in, and frequent changes in phone numbers and addresses. Her advice: "Make sure you are working with the borrower and not someone who's out to pilfer your life savings." To authenticate customers who call for draws on their lines of credit, Wells routinely validates their name and address, birth dates, last four digits of their Social Security numbers and their personal identification numbers. The company, which is the largest origination of government-insured reverse mortgages, strongly suggests to its customers that they receive their funds as direct deposits. And just to be sure there isn't some hanky-panky going on, it makes certain the name on the bank account is the same as the name on the note.

When there is what Wells considers to be an unusual amount of activity in the account, it always calls the customer to "make sure it is our customer," Ms. Bridges said. And when its hears someone coaching in the background when a borrower calls in, it reconfirms with the customer at the end of the day "when the coach is no longer there." The company also verifies signatures on written requests by comparing them back to the original deed and note, and it always confirms signatures whenever a customer asks for a change in his payment plan. A change in a guardian or other contact is another thing, which raises a flag with Wells' servicers, as well as more than one change in a phone number and address in a given year. Many seniors are so-called snowbirds who spend their winters in warmer climates. But when they switch places more than once every 12 months, something may be amiss, Ms. Bridges told the meeting.

Wells also searches death records "as a matter of routine" so it doesn't pay out money to someone who's no longer alive, the servicing expert said.

"We want to get updates as quickly as possible so we can stop payments as quickly as possible," she said, noting that it can be six months or longer before the company becomes aware that a borrower has passed away. "We can't always rely on family members to notify us." (c) 2008 Mortgage Servicing News and SourceMedia, Inc. All Rights Reserved. http://www.mortgageservicingnews.com/ http://www.sourcemedia.com/

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