This is a horrible story.
Unfortunately, where there is a lot of money, you will find predators. That's why good regulatory standards and enforcement are so important.
I've heard this story before. Attorneys and title agents stealing the escrow accounts. We as an industry should be policing ourselves and we've been having that discussion on Radical Title Talk.
This Title Insurance Talk forum is for consumers so let's discuss how you can protect yourself from predators.
First, remember, predators are not easy to spot. Until their house of cards falls down, everybody in town thinks they are a-okay. You might get a creepy vibe, you might not, so don't rely on your instincts alone. Here's what you should do:
ALWAYS get a copy of the title insurance commitment prior to closing. Review it carefully. A title insurance commitment connects you, the property and a title underwriter. If you have any concern about the license of the person you are dealing with, you can call the title insurance underwriter or the state insurance department.
AT CLOSING check the HUD-1 Settlement Statement and make sure you have paid for title insurance, not just a search.
ASK FOR A COPY OF THE MORTGAGE PAYOFF LETTER. We routinely provide copies of payoffs. The payoff letter will give you all the info you need to follow up after closing. Give it a few days then check with your lender to make sure the payoff posted as expected.
Any honest attorney or title professional will not be offended when you take actions to protect yourself.