Cracking down on mortgage fraud

FRESNO, Calif.

The housing crisis that has left developments abandoned and homeowners in foreclosure has also led to a dramatic increase in reports of mortgage fraud in the valley.

Merced Co. District Attorney Larry Morse said, "Sadly in any catastrophe or disaster you're going to have criminals who are going to seek to profit from the misery of others."

Authorities say many of the cases involve criminals offering to help people keep their homes only to walk away with their money.

"In the last 2 years these bottom feeders have been especially busy in the Central Valley trying to profit from the fear and anguish of those facing foreclosure," Morse said.

On Thursday local law enforcement officials joined the U.S. Attorney for the eastern district of California to spread awareness about the problem and discuss their efforts to fight it including the formation of a joint task force last year.

"We have already indicted federally quite a few mortgage cases. We have taken guilty pleas. More pleas are expected in the next months, we have cases going to trial, and we have a large number of investigations under way," U.S. Attorney, Benjamin Wagner said.

The Merced County District Attorney's Real Estate Fraud Unit has also filed 8 cases of its own in the last year and gotten two convictions with more than half a million dollars in restitution.

But the investigators behind those cases say real estate fraud continues to be a major problem in the valley, and they encourage all homeowners to be aware of anyone offering to help for a fee.

"Be leery, be wary and check them out, check with the dept. of real estate, check with the dept. of corporations before you pay anyone for those types of services," Anna Hazel, the Merced Co. D.A. Investigator said.

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