Scammers could see the 253,000 parcels of real estate in Montgomery County as opportunities to defraud senior citizens and others from their property.
The Montgomery County Recorder’s Office is unveiling an alert system today that will send out an email notification if changes are made to real estate records that might indicate someone trying to fraudulently take control of another’s property.
This year alone, the county has identified six instances where a property deed was transfered out from under a rightful owner. Another six cases of deed or mortgage fraud showed up during 2017, and many more cases are likely undetected, said Brandon McClain, Montgomery County recorder.
“If you don’t have early notice, you’re stuck chasing a ghost,” McClain said. “How are you supposed to catch someone who has a 10-year start?”
The Fraud Alert Notification System (FANS) will also allow family members living afar to keep tabs on the home of an aging loved one and out-of-state owners to monitor multiple properties.
“It’s going to have specific benefit for our elderly community and also for our investors,” McClain said. “This incentivizes investors to feel comfortable to spend money and invest in Montgomery County. This is oversight without intrusion, this is us keeping an eye on your property when you can’t.”
The FANS service is voluntary and free. Those enrolling can opt to receive an email, a letter or both whenever a deed, a mortgage or a lien is filed on parcels enrolled in the service.
McClain said deed fraud is typically carried out using a forged quitclaim deed signed with the help of an inept notary who doesn’t verify the identities of bogus signers, or one that is outright unscrupulous.
“Someone would then be perpetrating a fraud on the system by wrongfully assuming title of owner,” he said. “But they are not the true and rightful owner.”
Before becoming the county recorder in March, McClain saw similar cases firsthand as a public defender and Dayton Municipal Court magistrate. Many of those falling prey to the schemes are elderly and living on a fixed income.
“They don’t have resources, they don’t have the funds to hire an attorney to go to court, so that becomes quite a tall mountain to climb,” McClain said.
A defrauded property owner can expect to spend $2,500-$3,000 to get the mess untangled, McClain said.
“The most frightening thing about deed transfer fraud is that these terrible circumstances cannot be corrected absent a court order, which generally speaking is timely, costly and burdensome,” he said.
On top of a fraudulent deed transfer, perpetrators commonly put the home at further risk by using it as collateral for a loan or rent the property to someone else, McClain said.
Rightful owners often don’t know what’s hit them until hit with a mortgage foreclosure notice.
Eight other Ohio counties — including Miami and Warren — offer a similar service through a third-party vendor, Property Fraud Alert. The service is based on a search of a property owner’s name, which could be shared by many, or missed due to variations with initials or name changes.
Montgomery County’s system is based on the specific parcel identification number, McClain said. The site was developed over the last several months in-house by Niko Infanto, a county programmer analyst, with contributions from Chris Boyd, Gail Hicks and Melissa Carito.