At Play in the Fields of the County Recorder's Office

SPECIAL TO THE WEB

Annette Simmons-Brown, CFE

It's easy to record a document onto the title of a real property. Typically one needs only to have the proper form of a real estate document — a "conveyance of ownership" instrument, a mortgage document, a lien form, a power of attorney, an affidavit — and the appropriate legal information about the property, access to a notary's approval (or just a notary's stamp or seal) and filing instructions for the county recorder's office (or comparable office in your local jurisdiction). Then, bingo, the document can be filed and recorded with no verification of the truth of the information it asserts. Easy filing — coupled with no need to verify the filing's substance — enable significant, varied and lucrative frauds.

Within six months, the Hennepin County Attorney's Office (HCAO) in Minneapolis, Minnesota, charged two separate defendants with various criminal offenses in which false filings of documents at the county's registrar of titles/county recorder's office played significant roles.

The defendants — both 34-year-old men with professional résumés in real estate and investments — stole hundreds of thousands of dollars by the time they were charged with racketeering and other assorted fraud-related counts. Their routine fraudulent activities highlighted the vulnerabilities of public systems that are entirely dependent on personal honesty. (Neither defendant knew each other, for which we can be grateful.)

In part one of this two-part article, we'll examine the peregrinations of one Trevor "Bam-Bam" Baker — a financial crime generalist and all-around tiresome individual. In part two, we'll examine the specialized antics of Rory Sykes — whom I call the Lizard King of Foreclosure Fraud. Although their schemes were different, their common playground was the county recorder's office, and their respective hauls were substantial.

THE ADVENTURES OF BAM-BAM BAKER

Trevor Baker was a 6'6" bruiser of a self-styled home builder/renovator and all-around real estate whiz in Hennepin County. Before he discovered the fraud potential in real estate, he worked for a national investment house as a sales and executive investment trainee and learned the logistical operations of this and similar companies. He later became a mortgage loan officer and a commissioned notary public in the mid-2000s. His bar buddies gave him the nickname Bam-Bam, for reasons that faileth human understanding, and so that's how investigators and prosecutors later referred to him.

Bam-Bam had eight business entities registered in three states: Lucerne Capital L.P., Lucerne Builders, Lucerne Group, Marketech Investments Inc. (two entities with the same name), Geneva Capital L.L.C., Geneva Trust and Geneva Capital Trust. Remarkably, all of these entities operated out of a post office box the size of a toaster oven at a UPS outlet in a Hennepin County suburb known for its higher median incomes and relative transience. Bam-Bam listed himself variously as the "qualifying person," "general partner," and "director of investments" for these entities.

Bam-Bam also had a mother, Pamela, who had some business integrity "issues"; an honest grandmother, Edith; a soon-to-be ex-wife, Melissa, who had a healthy income and an increasing contempt for Bam-Bam; and a soon-to-be ex-brother-in-law, Dennis, whom Bam-Bam could easily manipulate.

Melissa's contempt for Bam-Bam was well-founded. For although Bam-Bam had all of these wonderful business entities, Melissa never saw him build or renovate anything unless it was a residence in which he lived. He bought, built or renovated these residences by fraudulently obtaining large loans, and he facilitated these loans by regularly filing false documents with the county recorder's office. 

Read the full article on Fraud-Magazine.com.

How to Tame ‘Data in the Wild’

GUEST BLOGGER

Misty Carter, CFE
ACFE Research Specialist

Emails, social media posts, blogs, instant messages — what do they all have in common? For one, they are tools used by millions of people each day to communicate with the rest of the world. What else do they have in common? They help detect fraud. You might be wondering, “Why and how is a Facebook update relevant to fraud detection?” Consider how much new data is created every second. Think about how many posts, emails or text messages you personally send each day. Now think about how much of this data is never touched. 

To put it into perspective, a study conducted by International Data Corporation (IDC), a U.S. market research firm, estimated that text, also known as unstructured data, will account for 90 percent of all data created in the next decade. Unstructured data, sometimes referred to as “data in the wild,” is basically free-form data that has not been put into a structured format. Since unstructured data is a relatively unexploited resource for fraud examiners, it makes sense to use it in a way that can provide more insight into areas prone to fraud that might have been previously untouched.

Before coming to the ACFE, I spent 10 years working in the audit field. I found mining through text data during fraud investigations to be one of the most useful tools in my auditing toolkit. Today, many fraud examiners are using a similar data analysis method to help explain, understand, or interpret a situation or a person’s actions or thoughts. This type of non-traditional analysis is referred to as textual analytics. In fact, the FBI and Ernst and Young’s Fraud Investigation and Dispute Services Practice have used textual analysis on email communications from past corporate investigations to determine the most common words used by employees engaged in rogue trading and fraud. As a result of their analysis, they identified the top 15 keywords and phrases used by fraud perpetrators. This list of keywords can be used proactively to prevent fraud from occurring or spot it early in the process.

The use of keywords, however, is only one facet of analyzing textual data. The ACFE’s new online course, Textual Analytics, identifies various techniques that can help fraud examiners, including examples of how data from free-text fields, email, social media sites and other sources can be used to uncover fraud. This course provides an overview of different types of data and how it should be managed prior to being analyzed. It also explains how textual data can be used to assess fraud risk in areas that might not be on management’s radar. 

If you are looking for new and innovative ways to add value to your organization, this course will provide you with the tools necessary to effectively reduce fraud risk exposure while enhancing your fraud detection skills.

Read more about the new course.  

The Wild West ... or Just Wait and See? What Anti-Fraud Professionals Should Understand About Digital Currencies

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Guest Blogger

David Long, JD, CFE, CAMS
Principal, Northern California Fraud Prevention Solutions

Recently the digital currency, Bitcoin, has exploded into the news. Much of the news coverage has been decidedly negative. A number of events occurred that have instilled in the public’s mind a vaguely negative impression about Bitcoin, to those at least, who have actually ever heard of Bitcoin. 

In October 2013, the FBI arrested Ross Ulbricht, a.k.a. “Dred Pirate Roberts,” who is alleged to have been the mastermind behind Silk Road, a website devoted to selling illegal drugs and other illicit items and services. The sole medium of exchange on Silk Road: Bitcoin. Then in January 2014, Charlie Shrem, a well-known member of the Bitcoin community and the CEO of BitInstant, one of the most well-known and largest bitcoin exchanges at the time, was arrested on money laundering charges.  Later, in early 2014, Mt. Gox, the Tokyo-based digital currency exchange collapsed and the ensuing loss of millions of dollars-worth of customer’s bitcoins spread through the news like wildfire.  Taken together, these events have caused many anti-fraud professionals working in law enforcement, regulatory agencies, compliance departments, as well as other institutions where digital currencies could conceivably be an issue, to eye Bitcoin and other alternative currencies with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Also, these events have hurt the relative strength of Bitcoin in relation to the dollar. The Bitcoin to dollar exchange rate reached a high of over $1,000 on some exchanges on November 27, 2013; however, the rate dropped to a low of $421.91 on April 7, 2014, and continues to fluctuate, further fueling skepticism about Bitcoin’s long-term viability. 

In spite of the negative news, Bitcoin continues to gain support commercially among merchants and retailers. The Sacramento Kings of the National Basketball Association, the Chicago Sun-Times and Overstock.com, among others, now accept bitcoins as a method of payment. In addition, thousands of small businesses scattered across the U.S. with notable concentrations in San Francisco and New York, also are accepting bitcoins.

Because Bitcoin is a disruptive technology, there were no real applicable regulatory or enforcement mechanisms in place when Bitcoin came into existence in 2009. The nature of the Bitcoin protocol is such that regulations already in existence, in most cases, could not be easily adapted to the Bitcoin protocol. The exchange, transmission, trade, securitization and commoditization of bitcoins all have regulatory implications. Regulators are rightly concerned about such issues as consumer protection, anti-money laundering/countering the financing of terrorism, fraud prevention and more. However, because of Bitcoin’s disruptive nature, the application of existing regulations often place Bitcoin into a regulatory grey area.

In March 2013, the U.S. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) issued guidance that characterized certain Bitcoin companies, namely Bitcoin exchanges as non-bank financial institution “money services businesses,” namely “money transmitters.”  Money transmitters must register with FinCEN and follow the Bank Secrecy Act’s (BSA) anti-money laundering (AML) regulations and must develop bank-level AML and Know Your Customer compliance standards for their businesses. 

For anti-fraud professionals whose work might involve digital currencies, it is important to reach out and coordinate efforts with other professionals, whether they are employed in law enforcement, regulatory agencies, or compliance departments. Digital currencies are here to stay, and a proactive approach will go a long way in successfully facing difficult issues related to digital currencies likely to arise in the future.

If you would like to learn more about the Digital Currency Environment’s impact on the anti-fraud profession, register now for the David Long’s upcoming ACFE webinar: Anti-Money Laundering in the Digital Currency Environment.