For years, people living in a quiet neighborhood in the Northland ignored the invoices that arrived in their mail demanding payment to a homeowners association.
“Just want to let you know it’s a scam,” Tony Navarro said he was told when he moved to the Summerfield subdivision. “This is not an HOA neighborhood at all. There are no monthly fees.”
But then, just before Christmas, a $445 lien was filed against Navarro’s home and more than 30 others.
The reason? For not paying dues to the Summerfield Homeowners Association. An HOA that has no board and provides no services.
The filing of fake liens and other documents has become a big problem in Missouri. The owners of a $4 million mansion in St. Louis had to go to court to prevent a woman they accused of filing a fake quit claim deed from taking possession of their home.
This is the sort of scam the government should be shutting down immediately it comes to their attention and the perpetrators jailed for fraud. But instead we learn:
We also wanted to speak to the other person behind the fake Summerfiled HOA, but he was even harder to reach.
Al Roberts is in federal prison, convicted of $3 million in mortgage fraud. Roberts, a retired Kansas City school teacher, formed Column’s Park, the company behind the HOA. Roberts also sent out the initial invoices to homeowners.
How is this guy able to run a fake company issuing fraudulent demands for payments from federal prison? I have no idea, but it’s clear the government isn’t much interested in stopping this sort of thing. But there is a deeper point here, one which is reinforced by this tweet:
One reason the American small businessperson might feel oppressed by regulations is the horde of scammers pushing scams in government’s name pic.twitter.com/uLLDGhrQEB
— Tom Scocca (@tomscocca) April 3, 2018
Only in a society where the laws are numerous, vague, and arbitrarily and aggressively applied with punitive sanctions for non-compliance can a scammer get away with sending dodgy demands and threats to random people with the hope of getting payment. In effect, the fraudsters are mimicking the behaviour of the state, which is key to making the scams work. The whole thing relies on the recipient being terrified of being judged to be non-compliant with an obligation they didn’t know about, and having their life ruined.
The root cause of the problem is not the scammers, but the nature of the government in the places they operate. Back when government was smaller, less complex, and applied some common sense these sort of scams wouldn’t have been possible. But those days are long gone, and criminals have stepped forward to take full advantage.