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Fraud By Any Definition
by Chrissy Jackson, ACM, PHC

n these days of explicit and exacting definitions, only the most imaginative of minds can begin to formulate the sequence of words that defines, yet defies, the word "fraud". Too many times, in too many ways, too many of us experience the effects of fraud. And turn our heads, or try to explain away its very existence.

Fraud is there in a dealership where the selling prices of homes are inflated. Down payments are sometimes not revealed as to source or untruthfully shown in amount on the Purchase Agreements. Sometimes there is a blatant lie when a trade-in value is shown, and the customer had nothing to trade-in. The customer appears happy with his new home which he may not have been able to buy without the "special" help he received from the salesman.

Fraud is there in a park operation when the manager yields to the pressures of filling vacant lots or sell inventory to persons who do not meet the minimum entry standards. It takes thorough background verifications and reference checking to approve a new resident for a community. Care is usually taken to verify financial ability to meet their new obligations of a home payment and monthly homesite fees. When that process is side-stepped or the results are ignored, once again fraud has reared its ugly head. Once again, the customer is temporarily happy with that home he now owns that might have been out of his reach.

Fraud is also there in the back rooms and file cabinets of finance companies. When a decision is made to fund a deal without sufficient documentation to verify the source of the down payment or the values assigned, there is a potential repossession looming on the horizon. When loans are bought repeatedly from those very dealers who continue to provide applications which are fraudulent, finance companies must indeed share part of the burden for the continuing problems within our industry. Customers with new homes marvel at their good fortune when a finance company picks up their loan, instead of rejecting it as they should. Then, when it becomes that repossession that we all know it probably will, the customer forgets about those "friends" who bent the rules for him. He only knows and repeats to everyone that "It's no big deal - it was only a trailer anyway".

Did you notice the errors in terminology in the previous paragraphs? I hope so. It was intentional. A Professional Housing Consultant is bound by a code of ethics, as is a retailer. A Community Manager or Owner who acts ethically, with the best interests of residents and the future of the community at heart certainly deserves the respect that proper terminology gives them.

Those without apparent ethics -- or those who hide their lack of ethics beneath a barrel -- those are our enemies. The dealers who bury that one deal that is not what it should be in a stack of applications containing accurate information; the park operators who fail to do an economic evaluation or fudge the numbers; those finance companies who knowingly purchase paper that has been falsified -- yes -- think of all of them when you think about how we need a solution to the problem of fraud.

The days of "operating by the seat of your pants" must be over. The days of professionalism must be here. We must demand honesty and adherence to ethics from ourselves as well as from those with whom we do business. The benefits are clear. Not only will the consumer still be happy with his home while it is new -- he will be happy with it five or ten years from now. When things get tight, he won't consider abandonment so quickly; he'll have equity in his home. Then, we'll truly have a happy customer who has good things to say about manufactured housing.

You know the rest of the scene: retailers and housing consultants will have more referrals and continue to add up the number of years as they continue to provide homes to qualified customers; finance companies can fill their portfolios with paper that has only a minimal chance of coming back to them; and, finally, the consumer just may begin to value this thing we sell called a home. Most people do tend to place a greater value on something that they have to work to get.

Oh, yes, fraud is out there. It may be in your office or in your business network. Will you continue to subsidize its existence and growth? It's a personal decision. After all, you're the one who looks in the mirror in the morning.

"Chrissy Jackson, ACM, PHC, has been a hands-on Community Manager for over 16 years. She managed communities from 200 sites in size up to over 800 sites. In 1996, she founded Chrissy Jackson Seminars, A Division of Steiner & Associates in Tampa, Florida. Chrissy currently provides property management and sales training to state association conventions and private companies. She is also recognized as a nationally published author with several publications currently on the market.

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