This is how thieves stole a Toronto condo and sold it for $970,000
The professional photographs posted on a property tour website last year show Moffy Yu's condo in downtown Toronto, a light-filled two-bedroom home with floor-to-ceiling windows framing sweeping views from the tallest residential tower in Canada.
Documents provided by Yu show the home was listed for $978,000 last May 11, then sold for $970,000 nine days later, near the height of the pandemic property boom. Ontario land title documents show ownership was transferred for that sum on June 15 to a new buyer who took out a mortgage with the Bank of Montreal.
But Yu, a former international student who now lives in China's Hubei province, said she never put her home in the Aura skyscraper on Yonge Street up for sale.
Instead, she said, it was stolen.
The property was listed by an impersonator who gained access to the vacant home, staged the photo shoot, listed it and sold it, all without her knowledge, she said. In the process, the impersonator appears to have duped the buyer, two sets of property agents, lawyers involved in the sale, a major bank and the Ontario land registry.
Toronto police confirmed there was an “active investigation” into the case but would release no further details. Bank of Montreal says it's standing by to help police, while the director of land titles placed a “caution” notice on the property title on Aug. 31.
Yu's experience, which she called “bizarre and shocking”, is not isolated. It's part of what investigator Brian King calls “total title fraud,” in which thieves impersonate true property owners by using fake identification.
King, of King International Advisory Group, looked into Yu's case on behalf of her title insurer, and said he could not comment on the specifics of her case.
But he said his firm had recently investigated several cases of total title fraud in the Greater Toronto Area. One involved a $2 million home sale.
He said the phenomenon involved “a fraudulent impostor” claiming to be the property's owner, having “manufactured and prepared identification.”
He said total title fraud is “extremely problematic,” because both a true homeowner and an unsuspecting new purchaser are victimized.
“The property sale, although a fraudulent transfer, is all performed in the proper legal processes which adds to the complications as this has to be all undone, which can take considerable time as it all has to go through the various judicial process,” King said by email.
On Jan. 5, Toronto police asked for the public's help to solve a different case that closely resembles Yu's. It said that in January 2022, a man and woman listed a Toronto home for sale by using fake documents to impersonate the true owners. It was several months before the real owners, who were out of town, realized the property had been sold without their consent, police said in a news release.
Yu, 24, only noticed that “something unusual” was going on with her condo, which she bought in 2017 for more than $800,000, when her monthly property management fees weren't charged last July.
She asked friends in real estate she knew in Toronto to look into the situation and was alarmed when they reported back that the condo appeared to have been listed and sold.
“I was freaking out and I couldn't believe what was going on here. The whole thing was outrageous, unbelievable, and it took me a while to digest,” said Yu in an interview conducted in Mandarin.
“I felt so helpless, and I still can't believe this could have happened to me.”
Yu, who moved back to China in 2019, said she reported the matter to police and her insurer.
The fraudulent photo tour of Yu's apartment is still online, showing what she called “my beloved property filled with all my memories.” She said the furniture was all hers, although she didn't recognize some small items including an orange throw pillow and a potted plant.
The real estate photography firm that posted the tour of Yu's apartment online did not respond to an email.
A woman who answered the intercom for Yu's apartment on Tuesday hung up when a reporter identified themselves and asked about the property's ownership. Yu's name was still listed on the building's intercom.
Jeff Roman, director of enterprise media relations for Bank of Montreal, said that in “a situation like this, we strongly encourage individuals to contact the police”, and the bank was “standing by to fully support (the police) investigation.”
“Given the priority we place on customer confidentiality, we cannot disclose any further details.”
A representative for the real estate brokerage that was listed in documents provided by Yu as representing the fraudulent seller said in Mandarin that the firm was unaware of the case, while a representative of Bay Street Group, the buyer's agency, confirmed the unit was sold last June.
Yu said the only fortunate part of the experience was that she had purchased land title insurance.
Tim Hudak, CEO of the Ontario Real Estate Association, said title fraud placed victims in a “horrible” situation, while fraudsters have become more sophisticated in forging documents.
The “smart, long-term solution” was to purchase title insurance, said Hudak.
“On average, it sells for about $1 for every $1,000 of the value of the property. If your home is worth $500,000, it would cost you $500. If your home were worth a million dollars, it would be $1,000,” said Hudak.
Hudak said previous types of fraud would involve suspects acting as buyers to open a bank account and obtain a mortgage under someone else's name, then make off with the money.
But fraudsters impersonating owners is a new phenomenon, he said.
Most vulnerable are owners who have been absent from their homes for a long period.
“It's important for all the professionals involved, the Realtor, the lawyer, and the banker, to check very closely identity documents,” said Hudak.
Perry Ehrlich, a British Columbia lawyer who has been practising real estate law since 1977, said title insurance was the “new school” way to safeguard against fraud.
The “old-school” way was to get a duplicate title from the land title office. “Having the duplicate title does protect you but keep it in a safe place because, without the duplicate, you can't transfer title,” said Ehrlich.
King, the insurance investigator, said impersonators are rarely the only parties involved in title fraud.
“In most instances, the groups behind this are well organized and the people front facing on the fraudulent IDs are not typically the ring leaders who distance themselves from exposure,” said King.
“In most cases, the funds received are either quickly (with in a day or two) moved out of fraudulently obtained bank accounts also in the homeowners' names to cryptocurrency or gold or wired overseas to make recovery efforts almost impossible.”
He said the risks had become “more problematic” during the pandemic, “as document signing was done virtually in most instances and the professionals in the process were not meeting with clients directly and physically, with identification verification (instead) being completed virtually.”
Yu said she hoped her “traumatic and painful” experience would help raise awareness of the scam. She has been describing her experiences on Chinese social media.
“I thought what happened to me was extremely rare, but a few others sent private messages to me saying they shared the same pain,” said Yu. “What I have been through wasn't an isolated case.”
- With files from Maan Alhmidi in Toronto
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 20, 2023.
Toronto Top Stories
CTVNews.ca Top Stories
W5 investigates | Priest, neighbours issue plea for help for struggling international students in Cape Breton
Cape Breton University has more than doubled in size by enrolling thousands of international students, and critics say the campus and community weren't ready. Watch the documentary 'Cash Cow' on CTV W5, Saturday at 7 p.m.
Afghan women cyclists who escaped the Taliban are chasing their dreams in Canada
After the Taliban returned to power in Afghanistan and banned sports for female athletes, Afghan women cyclists are chasing their dreams in Canada.
Unable to leave Syria, mothers of Canadian children forfeit repatriation to keep their families together
In a choice forced upon them by the Canadian government, four mothers have made the agonizing decision to forfeit an opportunity to repatriate their children from open air prisons in northeast Syria.
Recent immigrants more likely to have confidence in Parliament, Canadian media: Statistics Canada
Statistics Canada has released its new report about the Canadians level of confidence in Canada’s institutions, finding that recent immigrants are more likely to express confidence in the media and parliament.
Federal minimum wage, taxes on alcohol: Here's what's changing in Canada April 1
The federal minimum wage is increasing from $15.55 per hour to $16.65, and taxes are going up on gas and alcohol nationwide starting April 1.
A glass of wine or beer per day is fine for your health: new study
A new Canadian study of 4.8 million people says a daily alcoholic drink isn't likely to send anyone to an early grave, nor will it offer any of the health benefits touted by previous studies, even if it is organic red wine.
MP Han Dong issues libel notice to Global News over China interference reporting
Lawyers representing Toronto MP Han Dong served Global News with a libel notice on Friday over reports that alleged he spoke to a Chinese diplomat in February 2021 about delaying the release of the two Michaels, and that he was a 'witting affiliate' of Chinese interference networks – allegations that Dong denies.
Here's what to expect from the Canadian cottage market this year
A recent report from Royal LePage is predicting a drop in prices for Canadian cabins and cottages this year as demand softens from economic uncertainty and low housing stock.
Interim RCMP commissioner would support Criminal Code changes for stricter gun laws
Interim RCMP commissioner Michael Duheme says he would support the Criminal Code changes recommended in the Mass Casualty Commission report to implement stricter gun laws.
Authorities work to identify 8 bodies pulled from St. Lawrence River this week
Akwesasne Mohawk Police say they are working with Immigration Canada and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to confirm the identities of the eight migrants whose bodies were pulled from the St. Lawrence River this week.
Father of Old Montreal fire victim launches $22M lawsuit
A father of one of the seven victims of the deadly Old Montreal fire is suing Airbnb and the owner of the building that burned down for $22 million.
April 1: New parking rules in Montreal as spring street cleaning begins
Montreal's seasonal parking restrictions go into effect Saturday. As of April 1, parking will be limited during certain hours to make way for street cleaning and maintenance operations. Drivers should pay close attention to street signs to determine when and where it's safe to park.
Police on scene of reported shooting in central London, Ont., one person sent to hospital
London police responded to Dundas Street, just west of William Street around 6:30 p.m. Friday evening for a reported shooting. According to police, one person is in custody.
U.S. citizen charged with death threats targeting Justin Trudeau makes court appearance from London, Ont.
A U.S. citizen charged with threatening death or bodily harm to Justin Trudeau made a virtual court appearance from a London jail Friday. Jeremy Joseph, 40 — who is living in Sarnia, Ont. — was arrested on Feb. 4, 2023 after Sarnia police were notified of emails containing threats.
Man injured while fleeing police on Highway 401, SIU investigating
The province’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) is investigating after a man was seriously injured while attempting to flee from OPP on Highway 401 Thursday afternoon.
Family of Beau Baker 'deeply concerned' after inquest jury rules his death a suicide
The inquest jury found that Beau Baker, 20, died by suicide with the cause of death being a gunshot wound in the torso.
Packing up Portraits of Honour: Cambridge memorial on the move
A Cambridge memorial that pays tribute to Canada’s fallen soldiers is on the move.
Northern Ont. man receives lifetime hunting ban, fined $5,000 for grouse stash
A northern Ontario man has been banned from licenced hunting and fined $5,000 after pleading guilty to having more than six times the legal limit of grouse and obstructing conservation officers.
‘Nobody wants this’: Opposition grows to renaming Chippewa Secondary School
The plan to rename a North Bay high school is receiving tons of backlash online and has sparked outrage from some school alumni and the community.
Six arrested, 2.7 kilos cocaine seized in massive drug bust in Sudbury, GTA
Ontario's guns and gangs team says with the help of police in Sudbury and Durham, it has disrupted a large drug trafficking operation, seizing 2.7 kilograms of cocaine and arresting six.
Akwesasne: Bodies of two more migrants found, bring total dead to eight
Police say the bodies of eight migrants have been retrieved from the waters off the Mohawk Territory of Akwesasne, straddling the Canada - U.S. border. The people whose bodies were recovered Thursday and Friday consisted of two families of Romanian and Indian origins who were likely trying to enter the U.S. illegally, police said Friday.
NEW THIS MORNING
NEW THIS MORNING | This Lanark County grocery store is reducing prices to fight food inflation
In the midst of record food inflation, one local grocery store in Lanark County is actually cutting prices.
Here's a look at eight things that will cost more in Ottawa starting April 1
CTVNewsOttawa.ca looks at eight things that will cost you more in Ottawa starting April 1.
‘I will not support’: Windsor councillors eye ways to bring budget increase below 5%
Windsor city council will debate the 2023 budget on Monday, and ratepayers are looking at a much higher than normal property tax increase, but not if some councillors get their way.
‘We were in the trenches together’: Healthcare staff reflect on bittersweet final day of COVID-19 assessment centre
By day’s end Friday, the COVID-19 assessment clinic at Windsor Regional Hospital (WRH) will close, more than three years after opening at the height of the pandemic.
Windsor sees largest drop in Canadian household income growth ranking
Windsor experienced the largest drop in its ranking for median household income growth, following a new report from Fraser Institute ― but local employment leaders say the city has all the tools to bounce back in future rankings.
Fatal farm incident in Alliston under investigation
A 24-year-old man has died after a workplace incident on a farm in Alliston.
Barrie city council considers $40M Sadlon Arena renovations
Tourism Barrie brought a report from a consulting firm to council, recommending upgrades to the arena, including additional seats, modern concessions, and an open grand entrance on the building's north side. The proposed renovations would cost approximately $40 million but could bring significant economic benefits to the city.
Judge grants bail to man convicted of impaired driving causing death on Hwy 12 in 2020
Sigfrid Stahn walked out of the Barrie courthouse Friday a remorseful man one day after a jury found him guilty of impaired driving, causing a collision on Highway 12 in July 2020 that killed a 77-year-old Midland man.
'Impervious to change': doubt, disappointment after initial RCMP response to inquiry recommendations
After the RCMP commissioner admitted he didn't read the Mass Casualty Commission’s final recommendations, family members of those killed in the April 2020 tragedy say they have doubts the force will change.
N.S. doctor denies alleged negligence in case of woman who died after long ER wait
A doctor named in a lawsuit after a Nova Scotia woman died in hospital following a long wait to see a physician has denied allegations from the family that he failed in his duties.
'Nova Scotians' sense of safety was rocked': RCMP failures dominate inquiry's final report into 2020 mass shooting
A long list of failures by Nova Scotia RCMP leadership and policing systems dominate the final report into Nova Scotia's April 2020 mass shooting.
Motorcyclist killed in Macleod Trail crash
Emergency crews say a motorcyclist has died in a crash on Macleod Trail and it's suspected that speed was a factor in the incident.
Dangerous suspect has 50 warrants for his arrest, Calgary police say
Calgary police are warning the public about a man wanted on 50 warrants, including firearm and assault charges.
Homicide investigation closes Highway 552 northeast of Okotoks, Alta.
RCMP blocked off a highway southeast of Calgary on Thursday night as part of an investigation, which officials now confirm is connected to a homicide.
'Waking up to a really bad dream': Manitoba communities mourn four teenagers killed in crash
Multiple Manitoba communities are in mourning following the deaths of four teenagers in a car crash involving a semi-truck on Wednesday.
Zellers to open in Winnipeg next week
The wait is finally over for Winnipeggers who have been wanting to see Zellers make a return to the city.
'I don't feel right paying that money': Winnipeg man fighting phone bill exceeding $3,000
A Winnipeg parent is fighting to have his child's phone bill lowered after it was 10 times higher than normal.
Popular Othello Tunnels not expected to reopen this year
A major tourist attraction and historical landmark near Hope, B.C., remains closed more than 16 months after being damaged by floods.
Vancouver lawyer banned from financial markets for role in U.S. fraud
B.C.'s securities regulator has permanently banned a Vancouver lawyer from the financial markets after he was convicted in a U.S. court for his role in a US$34-million fraud.
No more paying for prescription birth control: B.C. to make Canadian history April 1
Paying for prescription birth control will be a thing of the past in British Columbia starting Saturday, marking a Canadian first.
Harm reduction group alleges excessive force by Edmonton police officers
A local harm reduction group says force used by Edmonton police officers during a recent arrest on Whyte Avenue on Sunday was "appalling."
Edmonton man latest victim in string of violent events on Edmonton public transit
Some Edmonton commuters say they're scared to use public transit amid increasing acts of violence at LRT stations and bus stops around the city.
Police investigating shooting in north Edmonton
The Edmonton Police Service is investigating after gunfire was exchanged near a north Edmonton strip mall.