It’s terrifying but it’s true. One minute you think you own a property and the next, it has been recorded in someone else’s name. Fraud in real estate is alive and well, with authorities all over the country saying homes are illegally taken without owners’ consent.
Because of the ever-growing rise of technology, it is now easier than ever to create fraudulent documents that can be easily recorded in public records making your house appear that it was sold and now belongs to someone else.
In a Texas case, a deed turned out to be a forgery perpetrated by a daring group of rogue businessmen who claimed ownership of more than 70 vacant houses and lots across Houston. These con artists allegedly made millions by reselling them to unwitting buyers, according to a Houston Chronicle analysis of pending civil and criminal lawsuits.
The players in this massive swindle simply strolled into the Harris County Civil Courthouse with fake deeds bearing the freshly minted signatures of long-dead men, faked notaries' seals and other blatantly false claims to seize and sell others' property, according to the Chronicle. The consequences of this fraud — carried out between 2002 and 2008 — continue to affect hundreds of people in some of the city's humblest neighborhoods and much of the mess remains unresolved.
Your best defenses against fraud of this kind are awareness and diligence, not permitting yourself to go on autopilot. The most straightforward way to make sure you are not a victim of this sort of fraud is to check public records regularly, looking for changes. Every city has a place where the public can go to search for information on a property. Property records are maintained at either the county courthouse, county recorder, city hall or another city or county department. Many public offices are staffed by knowledgeable personnel ready to help you find property deeds and encumbrances.
Telltale signs something is amiss would be things like getting mail addressed to a different name at your address or seeing that mail you normally might receive regarding your home is no longer arriving in your mailbox. Any new deed recorded in the public records triggers a slew of mail advertisements, so they are a great warning sign that something is up.
Another sign is sudden unsolicited interest from prospective real estate agents or home service-related companies. If anything sends up a red flag, go online and check for changes. Then check it again a few weeks later to confirm.
Vacation homeowners will need to be extra-vigilant, since these sorts of properties are especially vulnerable to fraud. Find a neighbor, or hire a reputable property manager, to regularly check and report on your property. Also, make sure to have mail related to that property forwarded to you, and be concerned if the flow stops unexpectedly.
Most times there will be nothing amiss regarding the ownership of your home. But it’s much easier to take steps to avoid a problem of this proportion than to spend a lot of time and money fixing it.Source: Sun Sentinel, Houstong Chronicle, TBWS
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