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Property Fraud

May 22, 2020

A while back, I attended a presentation by the Southern Essex County Registry of Deeds concerning property fraud and the danger it poses to homeowners on the North Shore.  It was frightening to hear how easy it is for a person to steal someone’s identity and to steal their home. 

Public documents, property deeds, mortgages, liens, and other documents are available online. Anyone can search and download these materials.  Fraudsters have discovered that they are able to combine identity theft and property fraud to create false documents and file them with the Registry of Deeds. 

The fraudster might take out a second mortgage loan in the property owner’s name, collect the money and disappear. The legal owner of the home doesn’t know anything has happened until the mortgage company starts requesting payments for the second mortgage.

The fraudster might actually sell the home.  There have been instances where a moving truck has pulled up to a house with new owners ready to move in—without the legal owners having a clue that their home has been “sold.”

The California Bureau of Real Estate reports that you should consider the possibility of property recordation fraud if you receive notification or become aware of:

  1. A recorded document on your property where you never signed the document and your signature was forged
  2. A recorded document on your property where ownership in your property, or a portion thereof, was transferred or sold to another party without your knowledge
  3. A loan was taken out on your property without your knowledge
  4. Changes or alterations were made to a recorded document after you signed it
  5. Stop receiving your property tax bill or notices
  6. Receive a Notice of Default or Notice of Trustee’s Sale when you own your home outright (free and clear of a mortgage loan), or when you have a mortgage and you are not delinquent on your loan payments
  7. Receive loan documents in the mail for a loan that was obtained without your knowledge
  8. Receive real estate documents in the mail for a transaction on your property that was conducted without your knowledge

In order to complete fraudulent property transactions, documents must be recorded with the Registry of Deeds.  The Southern Essex Registry of Deeds offers a free, state of the art, Property Fraud Watch Notification Service.  

If you participate in the Fraud Watch service, on the day a document is recorded against your property, you will receive an email alert.  This alert this contain a link, which allows you to view, download and print the newly recorded document free of charge.  If the document is legitimate—i.e., if you just took out a second mortgage or took some other action, which generated the document—you can ignore the email and all is well. 

However, if you receive an email about a recording that you did not initiate, you know that someone is fraudulently using your name and your property.  You can now take action, contacting the Registry of Deeds and your lawyer.  It should be noted that, even if you report that an invalid document has been registered, it will not be automatically removed from the Registry.  You will have to go through legal channels to have it removed.  But, at least you will know that there is a problem and you can take action to resolve it and protect yourself.

The senior community is often the target in property fraud.  If you have an elder loved one, you can add your email address to receive email reports from the Fraud Watch. 

Following the property fraud presentation, I went to the Southern Essex County Registry of Deeds website www.salemdeeds.com and registered for the Fraud Watch service.  It took about five minutes and was very easy.  During the process, I had a question and called the Customer Service number (978-542-1700) and their staff were very helpful and answered my question.