LAYTON — Had she been in the market for a home, Marla Vandermyde might not have chosen the quaint, one-story house in central Layton with the neglected rosebushes out front.

But unbeknownst to Vandermyde, someone did choose the 43-year-old bungalow — using Vandermyde's Social Security number to obtain credit — as part of a combination identity and mortgage fraud ring recently uncovered by Utah investigators.

"Not too bad," the Salt Lake grandmother commented after seeing the house for the first time Wednesday. "It needs a little yard work done. It's cute."

The Utah Attorney General's Office says the Layton house is just one of 87 homes sold across the Wasatch Front as part of the complex scheme. And that, Attorney General Mark Shurtleff said, "is just the tip of the iceberg."

The scam, which has already cost taxpayers some $2 million, is on its way to becoming the most costly in Utah history, Shurtleff said.

According to investigators, a handful of local mortgage brokers solicited buyers, mostly undocumented immigrants, to purchase the houses at highly inflated prices. The brokers would line up fraudulent Social Security numbers for the buyers and sometimes even give them money for a down payment, the Attorney General's Office alleges.

The homes eventually went into foreclosure, but not before the mortgage brokers pocketed large commissions from each sale and the homebuyers received six months to a year's worth of free rent.

The Office of Inspector General for the Social Security Administration began to uncover the scheme last fall when victims reported finding several home and car loans on their credit reports, said resident agent in charge Ron Ingleby.

At the same time, Ingleby said, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development discovered inflated property values on several homes. A subsequent joint investigation between the two agencies and the Attorney General's Office unearthed the full extent of the scheme.

The loans were federally insured through HUD, which covers the losses but then subsequently raises insurance premiums on legitimate mortgages to recoup the damages.

Vandermyde learned her Social Security number had been used in the scam in November, when she was contacted by the Social Security Administration.

"I was so angry and felt so violated," she said. "I didn't really understand how somebody got my Social Security number. . . . I feel I've always been a pretty cautious person about my personal dealings. I had no idea that this would happen to me."

So far, the Attorney General's Office has charged between 15 and 20 people with various felony charges, assistant attorney general Richard Hamp said. Eventually, he expects more than 100 people to face state charges of identity theft, communications fraud and theft by deception.

The alleged ring leaders are yet to be charged, although they are the ones suspected of profiting the most from the scheme.

"In this case, it's the . . . mortgage brokers and lenders who were making the money," Hamp said, adding those four or five individuals will likely face federal charges, although he was unsure when those would be filed.

Often in cases of identity theft, thieves obtain a person's private information from documents and other personal data. In this case, however, it appears the perpetrators simply chose numbers at random and generated a Social Security card using the new number and the home buyer's name, Hamp said.

The approach resulted in various people being victimized, and not always those one would expect to be purchasing a home.

"This runs the gamut from Mrs. Vandermyde, who's a Salt Lake grandmother, to a 4-year-old New York girl who bought a house in Ogden," Shurtleff said.

Other Utah victims include a 17-year-old Tremonton girl who fears the scheme will affect her ability to secure student loans and a Weber County woman whose Social Security number was used to finance six homes and obtain an R.C. Willey credit account.


E-mail: awelling@desnews.com