Ahoy There, Matey! Look Out for the Title Pirates

We all know about porch pirates… but look out for title pirates. They’ll take your whole porch.

Title piracy is deed fraud. It happens when someone uses a deed to deliberately take over someone else’s real estate. It’s an unusual crime, but according to the National Association of REALTORS® (which cites FBI figures), it’s been on the rise since the pandemic hit.

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Guilty Pleas in Long Island: Heirs Recover Their Stolen Deeds

Two New Yorkers — and one is a former lawyer and a licensed notary — have pleaded guilty to deed fraud charges in New York. The charges involve first-degree scheming to defraud, and additional counts related to forging and filing false documents to take deceased people’s titles in Nassau and Queens.

A company run by one of the pair pleaded guilty, too — to possession of stolen property and multiple forgery charges. The implicated real estate business will have to pay a $100,000 fine, and repay rents on the stolen properties. The other member of the pair, a landscaper, could be sentenced to a prison term of up to three years on January 30, 2024.

One of the would-be victims blew the whistle. As reported in the New York Daily News, she got a bad feeling about one of the pair. He walked into a coffee shop to meet her wearing a crumpled suit.

An investigation began. The outcome? The D.A. in Queens, Melinda Katz, announced that the Queens Supreme Court has voided the faked deeds. The ripped-off families are now able to recover their assets.

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Texas Warranty Deed Forgery Plot Thickens

More Houston-area deed fraud victims are speaking out. The alleged perpetrator has already been charged with a first-degree felony of forgery, fraudulent document execution, and theft greater than $300,000, in connection with warranty deeds worth some $15 million.

He would forge property owners’ signatures. Then he’d go buy their properties at a deep discount. Investigators say he tried to steal his own dad’s house. Yep.

He was arrested, let go on his personal recognizance, and told to reappear at his arraignment. He was a no-show. And that means Timothy W. is a wanted man again. What’s more, additional people have since stepped up, saying they believe the same person tried to take their homes away, too.

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Deed-Stealing Florida Broker Pleads GUILTY

Michael B., a real estate broker, has changed his mind. He’s now pleading guilty in a felony fraud case involving deed theft. In Florida, fraudulent real estate schemes are not unusual. But when a real estate broker in active status is pursued for deed fraud, that’s the kind of case that stands out. 

Yes, you read that right. This is a case of house stealing by a real estate broker. Licensed by the state of Florida, this person could and did list homes on the MLS. Not only is this person alleged to have stolen and sold other people’s homes; now, he has actually admitted to the scheme. The broker might manage to avoid any jail time.

According to Florida’s state prosecutor, the Tampa-area broker faked deeds and mortgage documents in order to sell ill-gotten titles to innocent people. He also used his stolen real estate to secure loans.

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Deed Theft Crackdown: New York’s on a Roll

New York State Attorney General Letitia James is championing a cause near and dear to our hearts: safe and secure deeds.

On the last day of July 2023, the A.G. announced an indictment of a Long Island resident for deed theft. Joseph Makhani faces two counts of criminal possession of stolen property and one count of fraud.

Makhani allegedly filed forged deeds and related documents in order to take two Harlem brownstones. Makhani’s state tax returns indicate that he got these homes for $10 a piece. The actual, combined value of the two buildings? More than $4.7 million.

This isn’t just about property value. Lives were upended. As A.G. James declared, “The fear and confusion unleashed on New Yorkers when they learn their homes have been stolen out from under them is something no one should have to endure…”

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Lee County, Florida Buyers and Sellers: New ID Rule for Deed Filing as of August 2023

After Florida passed HB 1419 to deal with deed fraud in the state, Lee County Clerk Kevin Karnes announced a new requirement for filing a property deed. As of August 2023 and onward, you’ll need a government-produced photo ID if you expect to file a deed in Lee County.

Why specifically there? Because Lee County, whose county seat is Fort Myers, is running the state’s anti-fraud pilot program.

Let’s talk about ID verification, and some questions experts are asking about Florida’s new deed-fraud prevention law more generally.

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Swindlers Beware: Texas Makes Its Move to Head Off “Dirty Deeds”

They call it the dirty deeds law. Recorders of Texas deeds may, as of July 2023, card people who show up to file home deed transfers.

Meanwhile, in Arizona, a swindler sold an ill-gotten deed to the Zillow® real estate company.

Texas is lowering the boom. The state will now have its deed recorders verify the bona fides of strangers bearing documents.

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Quitclaim Forgery Is Snatching Florida Homes From Seniors and Dead People

Some people will steal their own mothers’ homes.

In a stunning case of deed fraud, a woman named Wanda donned a wig and pretended to be her own elderly mother, then tried to steal her home in Hillsborough County, Florida. A video recording shows Wanda using the Notarize computer-based notary service, signing a quitclaim deed. She signed her mother’s name to take the deed for herself.

In May 2023, the Tampa police apprehended Wanda on counts of forgery and elder exploitation.

A weird and unusual case, surely? Alas, there are quite a few deed scoundrels alive and well in Florida. The state is among the top three for identity theft, according to the 2022 figures from the Federal Trade Commission.

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“Deed Theft” Is a Crime, Says New York Legislature

Bill Passes, Awaits the Governor’s Signature

On June 24, 2023, New York’s lawmakers passed a bill to create the crime of deed theft and help New Yorkers hold onto their homes. The state’s Attorney General, Letitia James, has been vocal about the need for new legislation to help keep New Yorkers in their homes.

State Sen. Brian Kavanagh and Assembly member Helene Weinstein sponsored the legislation. The lawmakers drafted it in direct collaboration with A.G. James herself.

“This legislation provides the Attorney General the tools needed to protect homeowners at risk of displacement,” A.G. James said in a press release, adding: “[W]e look forward to the Governor swiftly signing this bill into law.”

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