Monthly Archives: April 2017

Protecting Your Purchase Funds and Sale Proceeds from Wire Fraud in Real Estate Transactions

 By Michael Selinfreund, Esq.,

President/General Counsel of Cherry Creek Title Services, Inc.,

Agent for Commonwealth/Fidelity & First American

Recently, the number of incidents of wire theft in real estate transactions has risen dramatically. Wires of buyer’s funds to close and seller’s proceeds are being hijacked all the time.

Here’s a typical scenario. The fraudsters hack into the real estate agent’s email and monitor the agent’s emails watching pending transactions. Occasionally, they hack into the title company’s emails; however, it’s less common since it’s far easier to identify real estate agents that use public emails rather than private domain email accounts; lack sufficient firewalls; and are easier targets of malware than title companies. However, title companies also fall victim to these scams. All it takes is the fraudster posing as the real estate agent and instructing the closer to change the wiring information for the seller or the closer opening an attachment with malware.

Sometimes the fraudster steals the buyer’s funds to close by hijacking the wire intended for the title company. The fraudster sends an email to the buyer (often that appears to originate from the title company) modifying the routing and account information for the buyer’s wire to the fraudster’s account. Since the fraudster knows when the transaction is closing by monitoring the email account they hacked, they know when to send such an email. Many prefer to target the seller’s proceeds and wait until after the closing and then re-direct the seller proceeds immediately after the closing by posing as either the seller or the real estate agent for the seller.

These emails look legitimate since they either spoof the email address of the sender (looks like it came from a legitimate address) or they send the email from an account that is virtually identical to the sender’s by adding one character to the legitimate sender’s email and it goes unnoticed. That’s very easy to do when the sender uses public email accounts. That’s a common way title companies get duped. The closer receives an email from the fraudster that looks virtually identical to that of the agent, and instructs the agent to change the wiring instructions for the seller’s proceeds. Some fraudsters go as far as sending a fake email from the intended recipient’s bank acknowledging receipt of the wire and that it was being credited to the defrauded party’s account. This gives the title company and defrauded party a false sense of security, and the goal is to delay them a day or two to confirm whether the wire was properly received. This gives the fraudster additional time to withdraw the stolen funds or wire them to another account from which they’re withdrawn before the funds can be frozen where they were initially diverted.

So, if you’re the buyer, here’s how to protect yourself. One way is to fund your deal with a cashier’s check instead of a wire. If the title company has a wire only policy, tell them your concern about wire theft and offer to scan and send a copy of your cashier’s check in advance so the title company can call the issuing bank to verify its authenticity. That along with telling them you’ll close elsewhere if they will only accept a wire will likely change their position. If you cannot move the closing or choose to proceed and fund with a wire, make sure you call the title company closer at a phone number you independently verify belongs to them, and verify the wiring instructions directly with the closer. Many title commitments contain the wiring information where you send your funds necessary to close so be very wary if the closer gives you different information than what’s in the commitment. No matter what emails or correspondence you receive ever attempting to modify that wiring information, you need to absolutely presume it’s an attempt to defraud you and divert your money to a criminal. You’ll of course at a minimum want to call a phone number you procure independently (not off a potential fraudulent correspondence) and speak to the closer. I’ve never once seen the wiring instructions change in the middle of a transaction that wasn’t fraudulent so you need to be on high alert.

Protecting yourself as the seller from your proceeds wire being hijacked also requires a little diligence. You’ll want to insist that the title company signs a written document at the closing that confirms the correct wiring information for you and provides that the wiring information cannot be changed under any circumstances. Or you could choose to add a sentence that they can only be changed if the seller (you) returns to the title company; speaks directly to the closer that knows what you look like; you prove your identity again; and you sign a modified written document changing the wire destination. I’d prepare that document myself; send it in advance to the title company closer insisting that it be signed at the closing so it comes as no surprise, and if they refused to sign it, I’d go elsewhere. You have every right to make the party handling your money follow your strict instructions regarding the wiring instructions.

I also recommend notifying the title company prior to the closing that you want your wire sent immediately following the closing while you are still present, or make the title company get you a cashier’s check. Aggressive attorneys virtually 100% of the time successfully make the title company initiate the seller proceeds wire right after the closing, and the attorney waits in the lobby until a wire confirmation is received that the bank sends virtually immediately after a wire is sent. A thorough attorney verifies on the confirmation that it went to the proper account and takes a copy with them. A common issue that arises with getting a cashier’s check in lieu of a wire is that your bank may put a hold on it. If you’re turning around and purchasing another property or need immediate access to your funds for any reason, a cashier’s check might not work for you.

The sad reality is that once wires are stolen, they are rarely recovered. It’s a devastating loss to the victims, and their recourse at that point is to sue the real estate agent and/or title company for negligence. Not only is litigation extremely expensive, you are forced to incur that cost right after losing a huge amount of money. And, getting a judgment means nothing unless you can collect. The parties responsible may lack the money to pay the judgment or may file for bankruptcy protection. It’s far wiser to take appropriate precautions so you are never a victim of wire theft.

*This article is intended for educational purposes only and not as legal advice*

Insuring Beneficiary Deeds in Colorado – How This May Affect Your Next Real Estate Transaction

When providing title insurance on a property where there is a Beneficiary’s Deed involved, there is now a waiting period of 4 months after the date of the death of the grantor of a Beneficiary Deed is because the real property is subject to claims.  There would be no coverage under the owner’s policy for these types of claims and since we will not have issued a new owner’s policy, these claims are matters for the estate to address.

A waiver of  the four month period may be granted if the underwriter is provided a letter from the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing indicating that the Department does not have a claim nor will be asserting a claim.

 

“Beneficiary Deed” –  C.R.S. § 15-15-401 et seq.

During the 2004 legislative session, the Colorado Legislature enacted House Bill No.04- 1048, also known as the “Beneficiary Deed” legislation. The new law establishes Part Four to Article 15 of Title 15 of the Colorado Revised Statute to include Section 15-15- 401 through 15-15-415. The legislation, which becomes effective August 4, 2004, also includes minor revision to existing Sections 15-11-706, 15-15-101 and 38-30-113.5 so they are consistent with terms of the new law. The new law is accessible on the internet at: Colorado Revised House Bill 04-1048

The purpose of the new law is to provide a mechanism for a non-probate transfer of real property that enables an owner of real property to convey by deed an interest in real property to a grantee that will become effective upon the death of the owner. The new

law, in part, reads as follows:

“Vesting of ownership in Grantee-Beneficiary. (1) Title to the interest in real property transferred by a beneficiary deed shall vest in the designated Grantee-

.Beneficiary only on the death of the owner. (2) a Grantee-Beneficiary of  a beneficiary deed takes title to the owner’s interest in the real property conveyed by the beneficiary deed at the death of the owner subject to all conveyances, encumbrances, assignments, contracts mortgages, liens and other interests affecting title to the property, whether created before or after the recording of the beneficiary deed…  [C.R.S. § 15-15-407]

During the lifetime of the owner(s), the Grantee-Beneficiary shall have no right, title, or interest in or to the property and the owner(s) shall retain the full power and authority with respect to the property without the joinder, signature, consent, or agreement of, or notice to, the Grantee-Beneficiary for any purpose.

The new law provides that the form of the Beneficiary Deed should contain the words “conveys on death” or “transfers on death”, or otherwise indicates the transfer is to be effective on the death of the owner(s). A beneficiary deed in substantially the form attached to this bulletin as Exhibit “A” may be used. [C.R.S. 15-15-404]

The new law provides that a Grantee-Beneficiary interest may be terminated by the owner(s) with an instrument that revokes the beneficiary deed prior to the death of the owner or the execution and recording of a new beneficiary deed prior to the death of the owner(s). The joinder, signature, consent, or agreement of, or notice to, either the original Grantee-Beneficiary or the new Grantee-Beneficiary is not required for the change or revocation to be effective.

As to a revocation instrument, the statute provides that a form of “Revocation of Beneficiary Deed”, substantially in the form as set forth in Exhibit “B”, may be used. [C.R.S. 15-15-405].

For title insurance purposes, a conveyance or a transfer by an owner to a third party purchaser for value will be, viewed as a revocation of a Beneficiary Deed. [C.R.S. 15-15- 407]

The most recently executed beneficiary deed or revocation of all beneficiary deeds or revocations that have been recorded prior to the owner’s death shall control, regardless of the order of recording.  [C.R.S. 15-15-405 (3)]

Other incidents of the new law include but are not limited to the following:

  • Multiple Owners: Grantors that hold the property as joint tenants (a person who owns an interest in real property as a joint tenant with right of survivorship).  The “Beneficiary Deed” does not take effect until the death of the last surviving owner /grantor.
  • The “Beneficiary Deed” is only valid if the last surviving owner is one of the parties that executed the deed. For example, if A and B own the property as joint tenants and only A executes the beneficiary deed, the deed is invalid and the grantee takes nothing if B is the sole surviving owner of the property.
  • Multiple Grantees: One or more persons or entities capable of holding title to real property may be designated as Grantee-Beneficiaries in the “Beneficiary Deed” to receive an interest in the real property upon the death of the owner.
  • Successor in interest to the grantee: A “Successor Grantee-Beneficiary” is a person, persons, or entity designated in a “Beneficiary Deed” to receive an interest in the real property if the primary “Grantee-Beneficiary” does not survive the owner(s).
  • Termination of the beneficial interest:
  1. The beneficial interest may be terminated by the owner(s) during their lifetime by recording an instrument revoking the “Beneficiary Deed”. (Please See Exhibit “B”
  2. The beneficial interest may be terminated by the owner(s) during their lifetime by recording a new “Beneficiary Deed” to another Grantee­ Beneficiary.
  3. The beneficial interest may be terminated, for purposes of title insurance by the owner(s) during their lifetime by a conveyance or a transfer by an owner to a third party purchaser for
  4. The “Grantee-Beneficiary” may disclaim or refuse to accept the real property upon the death of the original owner(s)/grantors.
  • Purchaser from grantee-beneficiary protected. [C.R.S. 15-15-410)

Subject to prior rights or interests of others in the land before the owner died, a bona-fide purchaser for value or a bona-fide lender for value in its dealings with a Grantee-Beneficiary shall take title free of the rights of an interested person in the deceased owner’s estate and shall not incur personal liability to the estate or to any interested person. [C.R.S.15-15-407(2))

Any recorded instrument evidencing a transfer to a purchaser from, or lender to, a Grantee-Beneficiary on which a state documentary fee is noted under the provisions of C.R.S. 39-13-103, shall be prima facie evidence that the transfer was made for value. [C.R.S. 15-15-410(2) (Note: any such sale or loan by the grantee-beneficiary does not relieve the grantee-beneficiary from obligations to other creditors and claimants under the estate of the decedent owner.)

  •  Rights of creditors and others [C.R.S. 15-15-407)

If other assets of the estate of the deceased owner are insufficient to pay all claims against the estate, then a transfer of real property resulting from a beneficiary designation is not effective against the estate of the deceased owner to the extent needed to pay all claims against the estate. A proceeding to assert liability against a Grantee-Beneficiary may be initiated under the provisions  of CRS 15-15-409.

Further, under the provisions of Section 15-15-403 the interest of the grantee-beneficiary shall be subject to any claims of the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing as a “countable resource” for recovery of medical assistance payments pursuant to section 25.5-4-301 or 25.5-4-302 and may be enforced in accordance with Section 15-15-409. [C.R.S. 15-15-407]

Rights of Creditors provided under C.R.S. 15-15-407 do not affect the protection provided by Section 15-15-410 to bona-fide purchasers or lenders for value, with respect to claims of the personal representative or estate of a deceased owner against a Grantee-Beneficiary.

policy of title insurance

Rules of Title Practice 

Sale of property: If a “Beneficiary Deed” appears in the chain of title, the deed should be shown as an exception in Schedule B of the commitment. The exception should read substantially as follows:

The interest of [state name of grantee(s)] created by “Beneficiary Deed” from [state name of grantor(s)/owner(s)] recorded            , 20_, under Reception Number                     Official Records under.the provisions of§§ 15-15-401, Et Seq., Colorado Revised Statutes.

 

An exception for rights under a beneficiary deed, may be eliminated from Schedule B of a policy, by the recording of a transfer by all the original owner(s)/grantor(s) to a third party purchaser for value or the recording of a “Revocation of Beneficiary Deed” by the original owner(s)/grantor(s).

If a transfer by the original owners(s)/grantors under the “Beneficiary Deed” appears in the chain of title to the real property, assure the following is confirmed:

  1. That it has been executed by all the original owner(s)/grantor(s) that executed the original Beneficiary Deed”.
  2. If the transfer under the “Beneficiary Deed” has been executed by less than all the original owner(s)/grantor(s), the termination of the beneficial interest will not be effective until such time as there is a transfer executed and recorded by the last surviving owner who also executed the original “Beneficiary Deed”.
  3. Refinances and other loans: If the transaction is for a loan only, the exception for the beneficiary deed may be shown in Schedule B, Part II, or an appropriate endorsement may be issued to the lender (Such as a modified Form 110.2 Endorsement).

Elimination of a beneficiary deed as an exception. You may rely on:

  • A properly executed and recorded transfer to another third party purchaser by all the original owner(s)/grantors under the original “Beneficiary Deed”.
  • The recording of an instrument revoking the “Beneficiary Deed” by all the original owner(s)/grantor(s) under the original “Beneficiary Deed”. (See Exhibit “B”.)

You are required to run the general index (GI) to determine whether a” Beneficiary Deed” may have been posted to the GI. There exists the possibility that the plant may post the “Beneficiary Deed” interest to the GI, especially if the “Beneficiary Deed” was recorded without a legal.

You may rely on a “Beneficiary Deed” to pass title to the named Grantee-Beneficiary if:

  1. The record does not disclose a transfer by the original owner(s)/grantor(s) to another Grantee- Beneficiary and the owner(s)/grantor(s) have passed away.
  2. The record does not disclose a “Revocation of Beneficiary Deed” signed and recorded by original owner(s)/grantor(s) in their lifetime.

If multiple owners/grantors appeared on the “Beneficiary Deed”, you must determine that the all the original owners/grantors including the last surviving member of the original owners/grantors that signed the “Beneficiary Deed”, have passed.

Evidence of the death of the original owner(s)/grantor(s) is For purposes of title insurance, evidence of the death of the original owner(s)/grantors may be evidenced by the recording of a certified copy of death certificate attached to an affidavit of death (similar to an affidavit of death of joint tenant). [C.R.S. 15-15-413]

You may rely on a “Beneficiary Deed” to pass title to and insure the named Grantee-Beneficiary if:

  • The matters described in “a.” through “d.” of paragraph “6.” herein above have been completed or
  • An exception in Schedule B of the commitment and policy is included for:

 

Any claim of the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing for Recovery of Medical Assistance Payments Pursuant to Section 26-4-403 or 26-4-403 .3 by reason of the death of the decedent named below who was a former owner/grantor of said land under “Beneficiary Deed” recorded——-

Decedent:                                  _

An exception in Schedule B of the commitment and policy is included for: The lien of any Colorado Estate Tax (C.R.S. 39-23.5-101 et. Seq.) by reason of the death of the decedent named below who was a former owner of the land. Decedent [state name of decedent owner(s)].

An exception in Schedule B of the commitment and policy is included for: The lien of any Federal Estate Tax (Title 26 USCA- I.R.C. 2037) by reason of the death of the decedent named below who was a former owner of the land. Decedent [state name of decedent owner(s)].

You may rely on a “Beneficiary Deed” to pass title to and insure a bona-fide purchaser or lender of the named grantee-beneficiary if:

  • The matters described in “a.” through “d.” of paragraph “6.” herein above have been completed or
  • A requirement in Schedule B Section I of the commitment is included for:

the release, satisfaction, or evidence of non-applicability of: The lien of any Colorado Estate Tax (C.R.S. 39-23.5-101 et. Seq.) by reason of the death of the decedent named below who was a former owner of the land. Decedent [state name of decedent owner(s)].

  • A requirement in Schedule B Section I of the commitment is included for the release, satisfaction, or evidence of non-applicability of: The lien of any Federal Estate Tax (Title 26 USCA- I.R.C. 2037) by reason of the death of the decedent named below who was a former owner of the land. Decedent [state name of decedent owner(s)].