It is so easy to steal a pack of gum. Just walk into a store and slip it into your pocket. As easy as this crime is to commit, there are so many ways you can get caught. Personnel walking around and surveillance cameras can nab even the most accomplished shoplifter. Crazy as it may seem, it is much easier to steal a house than a pack of gum. Yes, steal a house. No need to slide the house in your pant pocket. A basic understanding of the legal process can give a con artist a house in a few minutes. Just walk down to the register of deeds and record a deed. Voila!
Each week, someone walks into my office with a different situation in which someone tried to steal a house. The situations vary.
A common scam is for a thief to notice a vacant house. They may ask the neighbor about whether the house is available for sale. Often, the neighbor will respond by identifying that they do not know but are aware that the person died awhile ago. This nugget of information prompts the thief to go to the register of deeds to view the last deed of record (the register of deeds is a public depository where deeds are recorded). The thief then prepares a simple Quit Claim Deed with the decedent’s name as the seller and conveys the property to himself. Getting a notarization for a dead person is easier than you may think. The thief then sells the property as soon as possible before any heirs show up to interfere with the scam by commencing a probate estate.
Sadly, family are also predators in the scam to steal a house. For example, last week an elderly woman came to my office stating that her niece presented a Quit Claim Deed with the elderly woman’s name at the top with the rest of the document blank. She was told by her niece that the deed was needed to remove her recently deceased husband from title. After she signed the deed, it was filled in by the niece identifying her as the buyer. The deed was then notarized and recorded in the register of deeds. Fortunately, she came to The Probate Pro shortly after this scam occurred. The Probate Pro was able to quickly unwind the situation as the niece quickly recognized the trouble she was in.
Stores have tried to curb shoplifting by adding security tags that make a loud beeping noise. But what about the register of deeds? Not much has been done to curb this scam. The FBI recommends a periodic check at the register of deeds of your property’s title. The FBI suggests looking for recorded documents you don’t remember signing, any signature that you know is not your handwriting, although it may be your own name, or anything else that looks suspicious.
If there is something suspicious, make a copy of the recorded document and bring it to a competent attorney. The Probate Pro can assist in unwinding these situations. Unfortunately, if you steal a pack of gum, you’re on your own!