News for Public Officials

Criminals Use County Websites to Steal Homes


Criminals have discovered how easy it is to get real estate with no money down: just steal it off the county website.

With little more than a copied signature and a notary seal taken from the county website, thieves have scooped up homes and vacant lots, taking out a mortgage or selling the property to unsuspecting buyers before the original owners know what hit them.

Typically, property thieves target homes and vacant lots that seem abandoned or have delinquent taxes and multiple liens -- signs an owner isn't attentive. After that, all it takes is a trip to the store and then the clerk or county recorder's office.

''You can go to Office Depot to get a document and walk into any courthouse in Florida and pay 10 bucks to record it and you own a home,'' said Sgt. Richard Davis from Miami-Dade County Police's economic crimes bureau.

Signatures and stamps for the deed can easily be copied from online images of property records on County Clerk's websites. The deed is automatically recorded without examination. No law requires oversight of the recording, said Dennis Haber, president of the Attorneys Real Estate Council.

''It's so easy, I'm reluctant to say it because it might encourage people if you put it in print,'' Haber said.

In a prison interview with the Chicago Tribune, convicted identity thief Christopher Scott said, "If you are still making money selling drugs, you are an informant or about to be busted - mortgage fraud is the thing to do now." 

To make a point, Davis said he recently forged a deed with a relative's permission and filed it in Miami-Dade County. No problem.

Crooks don't live in the properties with forged deeds because it would be too easy to be caught, said Lee Huszagh, a spokesman for the Florida Land Title Association. Instead, they put a mortgage on it and never make the payment.

''They never are who they say they are anyway,'' Huszagh said.

Lenders and the real property owners don't discover the fraud until foreclosure action is taken and title insurance does not protect homeowners from fraud that happens after the policy is issued.


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Criminals steal houses through deed forgery - Miami Herald

Mortgage fraud is the thing to do now.' - Chicago Tribune




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