How thieves stole a Toronto condo in a ‘total title scam’ and sold it for $970,000

A professional photo posted on the Real Estate Tour website last year shows Moffie Yu’s condo in downtown Toronto. A bright two-bedroom home with floor-to-ceiling windows and sweeping views from Canada’s tallest residential tower.

The house went public on May 11 last year for $978,000 and sold for $970,000 nine days later, according to documents Yu provided. According to Ontario land title documents, on June 15, title to that amount was transferred to a new buyer who mortgaged the Bank of Montreal.

But Yu, a former international student now living in China’s Hubei province, said her home in the Aura skyscraper on Yonge Street was never put up for sale.

Instead she said it was stolen.

The property was listed, photographed, listed and sold by an impersonator who gained access to the vacant home, she said, all without her knowledge. In the process, the impersonator appears to have defrauded the buyer, two sets of real estate agents, the lawyers involved in the sale, a major bank, and the Ontario Land Registry.

Toronto police confirmed an “active investigation” into the incident, but declined to provide further details. The Bank of Montreal says it stands by to help police, but the director of property rights issued a “caution” notice to property owners on Aug. 31.

Yu’s experience, which she called “strange and shocking,” is not an isolated one. It’s part of what investigator Brian King calls “total title fraud.” thief Use fake IDs to impersonate the true property owner.

King of King International Advisory Group, which has investigated Yu’s case on behalf of her title insurance company, said he could not comment on the details of her case.

But his company has recently investigated several cases of outright title fraud in the Greater Toronto area, he said. One was a $2 million home sale.

He said the phenomenon involved a “scammer” who claimed to be the owner of the property, who “had prepared his identification papers.”

He said outright title fraud is “very problematic” because it costs both real homeowners and unsuspecting new buyers.

“The sale of real estate, albeit a fraudulent transfer, is all done through proper legal process. It can take a lot of time because it doesn’t work,” said King. he said in an email.

On January 5, Toronto police asked the public for help in solving another case very similar to Yu’s. In January 2022, a man and a woman allegedly put a Toronto home up for sale using fake documents to impersonate the true owner. It took months before the real owner, who was out of town, realized the property had been sold without consent, according to a police news release.

Yu, 24, noticed “something strange” going on in the condo he bought for over $800,000 in 2017.

She asked a real estate friend she knew in Toronto to look into the situation.

“I was stunned and couldn’t believe what was going on here. Everything was so outrageous and unbelievable that it took me a while to digest,” he said in Mandarin. Yu said in an interview.

“I felt so helpless. I still can’t believe this happened to me.”

Yu, who returned to China in 2019, said she reported the incident to police and her insurance company.

A deceptive photo tour of Yu’s apartment is still online, showing what Yu calls “my beloved property packed with all my memories.” She said all of her furniture was hers, but she couldn’t recognize a few small items, like an orange cushion and a potted plant.

The real estate photography company that posted a tour of Yu’s apartment online did not respond to emails.

A woman who answered Yu’s apartment intercom on Tuesday hung up when a reporter identified herself and asked about property ownership.Yu’s name was still listed on the building’s intercom.

“We strongly encourage individuals to contact the police in these situations,” said Geoff Roman, director of enterprise media relations at the Bank of Montreal, who said the bank “fully supports the[police]investigation.” I’m waiting to do it,” he said.

“Due to customer confidentiality, we are unable to disclose further details.”

A representative of the real estate broker on behalf of the fraudulent seller, listed in documents provided by Yu, said in Mandarin that the company was not aware of the matter, but the buyer’s agent Bay Street A Group representative confirmed that the unit was finally sold. June.

Yu said the only good thing about the experience was purchasing land title insurance.

Tim Hudak, CEO of the Ontario Real Estate Association, said title fraud puts victims in a “terrifying” situation, while scammers are becoming more sophisticated at forging documents.

A “smart long-term solution” was to purchase title insurance, Hudak said.

“On average, it sells for about $1 for every $1,000 of property value. If your house is worth $500,000, it will cost you $500. will be,” Hudak said.

According to Hudak, in previous types of fraud, suspects opened bank accounts as buyers, obtained mortgages in someone else’s name, and then took the money away.

But scammers impersonating owners are a new phenomenon, he said.

The most vulnerable are owners who have been away from home for long periods of time.

“It is important for all professionals, realtors, lawyers and bankers involved to have their identification documents checked closely,” said Hudak.

Perry Ehrlich, a British Columbia attorney who has practiced real estate law since 1977, says title insurance is a “new school” way to prevent fraud.

The “old fashioned” way was to obtain duplicate titles from the land title office. “Duplicate titles protect you, but keep them in a safe place. Without duplicates, titles cannot be transferred,” Ehrlich said.

Insurance investigator King said impersonators are rarely the only ones involved in title fraud.

“For the most part, the groups behind this are well-organized, and the people who face fraudulent identities head-on are typically not ringleaders who distance themselves from exposure,” said King.

“Most of the time, the funds received are quickly (in a day or two) transferred to cryptocurrency or gold from a fraudulently obtained bank account in the homeowner’s name, or transferred overseas to It makes recovery almost impossible.”

He said the risks “became more of an issue” during the pandemic.

Yu said she hopes her “traumatic and painful” experience will help raise awareness about fraud. She describes her own experience on Chinese social media.

“I thought it was very rare what happened to me, but a few people sent me private messages saying they shared the same pain,” Yu said. “What I experienced was not an isolated case.”

canadian press