Despite all of the shining features this state has to offer, there's one blemish to Utah's gleaming image that Utah's governor and U.S. attorney would like to rub out: mortgage fraud.
Statistics show that over the years, Utah has become known as a hot spot for lending fraud. From straw buyers schemes to property flipping and mortgage stacking, Utah has consistently ranked in the top seven states for mortgage fraud over at least the past five years, according to the Mortgage Asset Research Institute.
"We have a problem with mortgage fraud in this state, and we're doing something about it," said Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. during a press conference Thursday with U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman. The conference was held to announce the creation of nine Mortgage Fraud Task Forces made up of federal, state and local law enforcement officers who will tackle fraudulent mortgage and real-estate operations.
Nationally, the rate of mortgage fraud shot up 64 percent in the past year, Tolman said, and the consequences have left individuals with ruined credit and neighborhoods with empty, foreclosed homes. Neighbors also suffer when inflated home values lead to unnaturally high tax rates, and overall, Utahns pay a higher interest rate on loans because the state is seen as a high-risk state for fraud.
In the past, investigating mortgage fraud was a "checkerboard of jurisdictions," Huntsman said, where various law enforcement agencies did not communicate with one another. The task forces will help close gaps that criminals have traditionally used to slip by, the governor said.
Huntsman also noted he recently signed a bill into law that gives stronger investigatory powers to the Utah Division of Real Estate.Tolman said those who run mortgage fraud operations are drawn to Utah due to its traditionally strong housing market and economy, but he noted that such operators are put on notice, "we're coming after you."