The pitch sounded enticing: for an upfront fee, real estate “investor” Hasan Hussain promised to find clients the homes of their dreams or negotiate the loans of existing homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages.
Yet Hussain did neither of those things. He simply took his victims’ money—depriving them of their dreams of homeownership and defrauding them out of more than $1 million. Hussain targeted people for whom English was a second language, encouraging them to sign documents they did not understand.
“One woman gave him her life savings. It was her American dream to find a home, and he told her he’d help her,” said Special Agent Christina Grady, who investigated the case out of the FBI’s Boston Field Office. “But he never followed through on any promises to anyone. He would collect money—from people who didn’t have much money—and pocket it.”
Not only did he target vulnerable homeowners or would-be homeowners but Hussain also had a knack for winning his victims’ trust, becoming “like part of their family,” Grady said.
Hussain, who began his years-long fraud scheme in Rhode Island in 2009 while on supervised release for similar crimes in Massachusetts, used a variety of tactics to defraud his victims, which got more complex over time as he acquired more homes.
For example, he convinced a family struggling to pay their mortgage to move out of their home and into one his other properties; he then rented their home out, collecting rent from the tenants without paying the homeowner’s mortgage. Another tactic involved convincing homeowners that he was trying to negotiate with their lender on their behalf. Instead he would damage their property to decrease its value, and once the home was damaged, he’d buy the home in a short sale—a term for a property being sold at a price lower than what is owed on the mortgage.
Hussain also solicited investors to purchase properties they never intended to live in, telling the victims he would rent out and manage the homes on their behalf. He did not actually make the mortgage payments, defrauding the homeowners and jeopardizing their credit scores.
“He had a lot of different schemes, but it was basically making promises to people in difficult circumstances and never following through with a single one,” said FBI Forensic Accountant Kathleen Brekenfeld, who painstakingly matched up thousands of Hussain’s financial transactions with real estate activity to help prove the case. “It’s unfathomable how he could meet these people, see what they’re going through, and rip money out of their hands.”
Hussain pleaded guilty last September to aggravated identify theft and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. In January, he was sentenced to 13 years in prison.
“They won’t get their money back, but the victims were pleased with the sentence, knowing that he can’t do this to anyone again anytime soon. It gives them some closure,” Grady said.
Grady and Brekenfeld recommend doing your homework in any real estate transaction, especially if someone asks you for significant cash up front or promises any sort of guaranteed returns. Legitimate investments do not offer guarantees.
“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Brekenfeld said. “High upfront fees and guarantees should raise a red flag. Do your research. Step back and say, ‘Does this really make sense to me?’ ” (News article and image credit: FBI)