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Deed Scams and Title Scams — Protect Your Senior Loved Ones

Tight housing markets create perverse incentives for scammers. And in a housing market as competitive as California’s, there are ample opportunities for real estate fraud. According to one report, the Federal Bureau of Investigation received nearly 12,000 real estate-related complaints in 2022, with losses totaling nearly $400 million. Seniors are particularly vulnerable targets for real estate scams, as they are more likely than individuals in younger generations to own their homes and may be less familiar with modern scamming methods. Persons close to seniors like caregivers or old girlfriends or boyfriends may also prepare deeds of a seniors property to themselves and trick or coerce a senior into signing. A California financial elder abuse attorney can help you or a loved one recover if you have been the victim of a deed or title scam.  

What Are Deed Scams and Title Scams? 

Deed scams and title scams are a type of fraud that allows scammers to literally steal their victims’ houses. They commonly target properties that are not continuously occupied (e.g., abandoned properties, vacation properties, second homes, etc.), but real estate scammers can target any type of property, continuously occupied or not. These types of scams typically occur in one of two ways: 

  • The scammers forge a deed that transfers ownership of the subject property to themselves. They then record the deed with the county recorder of deeds and promptly sell the property to an unsuspecting buyer. 
  • The scammers trick, coerce, or otherwise cause the victim to sign over the property to them. These types of deed scams and title scams can be elements of reverse mortgage scams, phishing attempts, or tax relief scams. 

While these methods may sound outlandish, in reality, they are surprisingly simple. Scammers can easily create fictitious deeds using publicly available property descriptions. They can then source the homeowner’s signature and other information through publicly available land records. They then forge a notary’s seal (or may enlist the help of an unscrupulous real notary) and record the document with the county, in effect “stealing” the victim’s home. When they are perpetrated against an elderly person, deed and title scams are a form of financial elder abuse

Warning Signs of Deed and Title Scams 

Regular monitoring of county land records is not a routine activity for most homeowners. But even in the absence of diligent observation, there are some warning signs that a homeowner may be the victim of a deed or title scam. Red flags that can indicate such fraud include:

  • Receiving unexpected or unfamiliar bills in the mail
  • A caregiver or other person asks a senior to sign some legal papers 
  • Getting phone calls or emails from mortgage lenders you haven’t worked with
  • Major changes in your utility bills 
  • Stopped property tax bills or notices 
  • Receiving a notice of default when you own your home outright or are current on your mortgage payments
  • Receiving loan documents in the mail for a loan you did not apply for 
  • Receiving real estate documents for a transaction on your property that was conducted without your knowledge 

Even when these warning signs do not point to deed or title scams, they could point to other types of elder financial abuse. Speak to a California financial elder abuse lawyer for more information about red flags that can indicate elder financial fraud

How to Protect Your Senior Loved Ones From Deed and Title Scams

The simplest and most effective way to protect your senior loved ones from deed and title scams is to set a reminder to periodically check their properties in the relevant county land records for evidence of suspicious behavior. When checking the records, look for the following things: 

  • Documents affecting the property that your loved one never recorded 
  • Suspicious (possibly forged) signatures on recorded documents
  • Documents that transfer an interest in your loved one’s property to someone they don’t know
  • Recorded documents in which the signer was deceased at the time the document was executed 
  • Deeds of trust (i.e., mortgages) on the property that your loved one does not recognize
  • Changes to previously recorded documents that appear after they were recorded 

Homeowners (and those looking after senior loved ones) can also take proactive steps to prevent deed and title scams before they occur. Purchasing a title insurance policy is one of the most effective ways to do this. Title insurance protects homeowners from financial losses stemming from back taxes, liens, flawed records, deed and title fraud, and other real estate-related risks. Of course, scammers also operate in the insurance industry. Before purchasing a title insurance policy, you might want to consider speaking to a San Francisco financial elder abuse attorney to rule out potential insurance fraud

What to Do if a Senior Loved One Has Been the Victim of a Deed or Title Scam 

If you suspect that a senior loved one has been the victim of a deed scam or title scam, your first step should be to immediately report the suspicious activity to government and law enforcement authorities. Relevant authorities in this area include the offices of the recorder of deeds and district attorney in the county where the property is located. 

If the deed scam or title scam at issue involved a notary’s seal (whether fraudulent or otherwise), you may also want to contact the Notary Public Section of the California Secretary of State. This is the office that investigates and takes disciplinary actions against notary publics who have committed violations of law. 

If your loved one has a title insurance policy, notify the title insurer of the suspected fraud. The insurer may be able to assist you in getting the fraudulent deed or other document removed from the county land records. 

Speak to a San Francisco Financial Elder Abuse Lawyer to Combat Suspected Deed Scams and Title Scams 

If you suspect that a senior loved one has been the victim of a deed scam or title scam, an experienced attorney can help you identify potential fraud and pursue legal remedies to quiet title to the property at issue. For more information about deed scams, title scams, and other real estate fraud affecting seniors, please contact a San Francisco financial elder abuse attorney at the Evans Law Firm, Inc., by using our online contact form or calling 415-441-8669 or toll-free at 1-888-50EVANS (888-503-8267).

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