By Patric Hedlund and Gary Meyer
A new organization has formed in Kern County to help the public and law enforcement prevent and prosecute real estate fraud.
The Real Estate Anti-Fraud Advisory Council (REAAC) brings together law enforcement and regulatory agencies from the California Bureau of Real Estate, Department of Justice, the FBI, the Kern County District Attorney’s Office, Bakersfield Police Department and the Kern County Sheriff’s Office with industry professionals such as brokers, realtors, escrow and mortgage officers.
“Our main focus is fraud awareness to help the public protect itself,” said David Knoeb, real estate broker and owner of Frontier Real Estate Services. He is a founding member of REAAC and the 2013 president of the Bakersfield Association of Realtors (BAR). He said BAR gave a $5,000 seed grant to start REAAC.
“Then we got a $10,000 grant from the National Association of Realtors. We are getting our website up and getting things going,” Knoeb said. “The concept started a few years ago, but it has really gotten moving in the past five to six months.”
Knoeb wants members of the public who have concerns about real estate fraud to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org “so I have something in writing,” he said (but also gave his 661-588-3283 number).
“I will do all that I can to help in any way possible. This is all about awareness and helping,” Knoeb said.
Knoeb told The Mountain Enterprise that in Visalia there is a Real Estate Anti-fraud Advisory Team working with the Tulare District Attorney that he believes has helped to take 25 cases to prosecution.
“The biggest problem we run into,” he said, “is that people don’t file a complaint. We want to change that. We want to prevent fraud from happening.”
For those who are hoping for restitution as a result of being victimized by real estate fraud, The Bureau of Real Estate emphasizes that it only seeks to confirm whether a license should be revoked or not. Once there is sufficient evidence to indicate that there is basis to revoke a license, that is done.
This took place in November in the Mountain Communities with a broker for All Seasons Property Management who surrendered his license for mishandling finances and allegedly causing loss to owners of properties he managed.
After that, it is the responsibility of the harmed individual to file a civil claim for restitution or, in some instances, for a criminal complaint to be adjudicated.
If the homeowner wins the civil suit, but cannot collect from the losing party, the Bureau of Real Estate (BRE) has a fund to assist with compensation. It pays only up to $50,000 per property owner, a total of $250,000 per broker. “If a judge in a criminal prosecution puts in a Criminal Restitution Order, that could be the basis to access the recovery fund without first going through the civil proceedings normally required to access the fund,” Bureau of Real Estate Assistant Commissioner Tom Pool (an attorney) said.
The REAAC website www.reaackern.org offers preventive advice on how to avoid becoming a victim of real estate fraud, such as:
• Do not put your trust in an unlicensed person!
• Obtain the person’s real estate license number
• Check the status of the person’s license at www.bre.ca.gov
• Google the individual’s name
• Verify ownership of property
• Google the business name to learn of the reputation of the company.
What to Do if Fraud Happens
Go to www.reaackern.org where you can access links to
• File a complaint with the Kern County District Attorney’s office
• File a complaint about a real estate license with the local Association of Realtors and the Bureau of Real Estate
• File a complaint about a licensed mortgage lender or broker.
This is part of the January 31, 2014 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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