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Tonya Papanikolas ReportingThe U.S. Attorney for Utah, Brett Tolman, and Gov. Jon Huntsman say the state will no longer sit by idly and watch mortgage fraud happen.
Today a joint task force was announced to combat the problem. The goal of the task force is to increase communication between agencies and eventually prosecute more criminals involved in mortgage fraud.
Task force members are divided into nine teams; each team will target a specific mortgage fraud network.
Tolman said many of the schemes going on right now involve millions of dollars, and as task force members uncover them, they intend to see offenders punished.
Utah's law enforcement communities are ready to get tough on mortgage fraud. "At its heart, it is pretty simple and goes back to what we see in most fraud," said Tolman. "It involves deception, lying and cheating."
Utah is consistently in the top 10 states for mortgage fraud. One poll ranks Utah 5th in the nation.
"We have had a strong housing industry and strong economy, and fraud follows strong economies," said Tolman.
Now the state has a more coordinated effort to fight it. A newly announced Utah Mortgage Fraud Task Force will bring together local, state and federal investigators, and prosecutors to target common mortgage fraud schemes. They will meet regularly to review investigations. Huntsman said, "So there are no gaps, no cracks, and there are no holes as it relates to where scam artists can hide."
Some of the common forms of mortgage fraud in Utah involve using straw buyers with good credit to get home loans. These individuals sometimes falsify documents and can be a part of a larger scheme of appraisers and lenders who inflate home values for resale.
The governor says these kinds of schemes hurt the entire state "...from the victims whose credit history and financial well-being are destroyed, to the communities whose neighborhoods are left with vacant and foreclosed-on homes."
And, that also means paying higher property taxes in areas where this is happening.
Until now, different agencies haven't really been discussing what they knew with each other. They believe they'll have a lot more success combining their resources and working together.