Lowell Deeds

The latest on real estate recordings and new technology from the Middlesex North Registry of Deeds in Lowell

July 13, 2009

AARP warns of deed scams

by @ 1:36 pm. Filed under Real Estate

This month’s AARP Bulletin contains an article warning homeowners to be on alert for house stealing which is described as “a fast-growing and easy scam.” In this scenario, the wrong-doer creates a fraudulent deed that purports to transfer ownership from the true homeowner to the thief. Once this new deed is recorded, the bad guy either sells to some unwitting cash-paying buyer, or more likely, refinances and pockets the cash received from the new loan. Elderly homeowners are prime targets for this type of scam because many of them have already paid off their mortgages, so the granting of the new loan is not contingent upon the pay-off of an existing mortgage.

The AARP publication lays some of the blame for this type of vulnerability on registries of deeds, stating:

The signatures of “sellers” are forged, and paperwork is filed with the city or county recorder’s office. In many states, deed recorders and those who oversee property closings are not required to authenticate the identities of buyers or sellers.

I can’t imagine the registry of deeds doing more to authenticate the identities of the parties to a sale than what we do now – which is to ensure that all deeds are acknowledged by a notary or some other public official. Without the acknowledgement, the document will not be recorded but it’s unrealistic to give the registry the responsibility of authenticating identities.

The AARP ends with some advice to homeowners that includes the following:

“From time to time, check all property records with your local deed recorder’s office to ensure all documents and signatures are legitimate” (that’s OK).

“Some deed-recording offices use software that alerts homeowners whenever a transfer is made on their property. If yours doesn’t, ask why not.” (we don’t and such a system would cost a substantial amount to set up and operate yet would provide very limited protection).

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