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Despite government efforts, FBI says no let up in mortgage fraud

By Terry Frieden, CNN Justice Producer
  • Economic factors continue to provide fertile ground for mortgage fraud
  • An FBI report shows the number of cases in 2010 was up 12% from 2009
  • "It could get worse," says an official who oversees the FBI's financial crimes units

Washington (CNN) -- Despite aggressive law enforcement efforts, stricter government regulations and tighter borrowing standards, mortgage fraud "remains elevated," and may be getting worse, the FBI said Friday.

While top officials admitted they didn't want to sound "alarmist," they acknowledged the distressed housing market, bleak unemployment picture and weak economy continue to provide fertile ground for fraud in the mortgage industry.

"It could get worse," said Deputy Assistant FBI Director David Cardona, who oversees the FBI's financial crimes units. "There could be more victims," he said.

Cardona's team of agents and analysts released a report for 2010 showing the number of pending FBI mortgage fraud cases increased 12% from the previous year -- from 2,794 to 3,129.

Claims of fraud continued to come from the same areas where the problem has been most severe since the housing bubble burst. Florida remained atop the list of states with reports of mortgage fraud. New York, California, New Jersey, Maryland, Michigan, Virginia, Ohio, Colorado and Illinois were also in the top 10.

The perpetrators were primarily mortgage brokers and other insiders involved with loan originations. A growing number of the cases involved fraudulent documents that falsified the finances of potential buyers. The FBI said those documents were becoming increasingly more difficult to identify because of sophisticated fraudulent methods.

Although several ethnic criminal groups within the U.S. have been attracted to mortgage fraud as a way to make a fast dollar, the FBI says there is no evidence of any international involvement with the U.S.-based organized crime groups engaged in the fraud.