I recently co-authored a book about real estate and mortgage fraud called Protect Yourself from Real Estate and Mortgage Fraud: Preserving the American Dream of Homeownership with attorney Rachel Dollar. In the book, we offer detailed descriptions of how various scams are pulled off. The intent was not to provide a how-to manual for con artists but to educate real estate professionals and consumers, so they are better equipped to defend themselves against these crooks.
As soon as the book hit the market, several people posted messages on my blog FlippingFrenzy.com claiming that our book provided con artists with information that would enable them to avoid detection and prosecution.
When Rachel and I and our writer, Joe Kraynak, originally began discussing plans for the book, we brought up this issue among ourselves. We were well aware that such a book could be used by con artists or con artist wannabes as a rudimentary training manual, but we thought at the time and still do that educating the public would provide a greater deterrent. The biggest threat to real estate professionals, homeowners, and the entire real estate industry is ignorance. The con artists are already well equipped with the knowledge and tools to rip off the system, and their biggest weapon is other people’s ignorance.
If you read any book or article on scams or white-collar crime, you always find explanations for how specific scams are perpetrated. If you go to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) site on identity theft at www.ftc.gov/idtheft, for example, you can pull up an entire list of strategies that con artists use to steal information, including dumpster diving, skimming, phishing, and redirecting your mail to their address. The site even contains a video showing a con artist stealing mail from a mailbox and digging through the trash to obtain discarded documents. The FTC isn’t trying to teach people how to steal identities. The intent is to let potential victims know how identity thieves operate so they are better able to defend themselves.
In Protect Yourself from Real Estate and Mortgage Fraud: Preserving the American Dream of Homeownership, Rachel and I take the same approach, revealing how perpetrators operate, so that potential victims can take practical steps to prevent fraud and be able to spot the signs of a bad deal earlier enough in the process to do something about it. Unfortunately, anything you produce to help people defend themselves against fraud reveals something about how the con artists operate, so it is a bit of a double-edged sword, but the other option—keeping the public in the dark—gives the con artists more ignorant victims to exploit.
Only by being empowered by knowledge can we defend ourselves from the people who already have that knowledge and are committed to using it against us to separate us from our homes and our money.