Property fraud has left a young Wayne County couple’s lives in turmoil.
Someone figured out a way to file paperwork that basically stole the couple’s property and allowed the perpetrator to borrow a large amount of money against it, said Judy Harrison, Wayne County register of deeds.
The fraud, which came to light within the past month, is still under investigation. It is something that could have been caught sooner had a new fraud protection service that went live this week been in place earlier.
Harrison’s office has been working in partnership with Cott Systems to identify a no-cost solution to help make residents a little safer when it comes to their properties and online security. On Tuesday, the office implemented Cott Systems PropertyCheck to help protect county residents from potential property and mortgage fraud.
The 24/7 service allows residents to sign up on the county’s website to receive notifications of recordings on their property by activating alerts based on their name, property address or parcel number. There is no cost to county residents to participate.
“Say for example, if somebody has filed a power of attorney,” Harrison said. “Or if you own several lots and one was being released from a deed of trust, the system will recognize it and send the information that a release has been filed or any kind of real estate documents that we record. Then you can go into our system and look under your name, and it’s going to come up for you right then, and you are going to be able to see it if it was something that you didn’t know about.
“You might want to check on it. The main reason I wanted it for was what if somebody was trying to steal your house? And they have signed your name on a deed. We have no way of knowing that. But if you signed up for this property check, and you have your name on there, it is going to tell you that something has been recorded.”
Harrison called the case involving the Wayne County couple a “screwed-up mess.”
Two documents, both of which were four pages each, were involved, she said.
The couple who owns the house did sign a four-page document, but they never saw the second four-page document that was involved in the fraud, Harrison said.
“Whoever did this (fraud) took the signature page original out of one document and put it in the other document and basically stole the person’s property,” Harrison said. “Borrowed money on it. Got a big loan and now the original owners are still in there, but somebody figured out how to get the money.”
The signature matched what was on file and the paperwork went through because everything was in proper form, she said.
“When a notary says that person appeared before them, they are responsible for that,” Harrison said. “However, if you don’t ask for identification, and you don’t know that person, you (notary) shouldn’t do that. They should not be notarizing a document for them. But yet it happened.
“However, if we had had this fraud protection on there, and these people had signed up when that was recorded, then they would be getting their notification that something had been recorded on their property so they could have gone right to our site and seen what had been recorded.”
Records in many states are made available for viewing online at no cost, which makes it easier for people to track recordings on their property, but it does require persistence, and in some cases costs the taxpayer for access.
This solution eliminates the time associated with doing a search of your name or property by alerting the resident by email when a document has been recorded that matches the alerts they activated.
“Just go to my page on wayne.gov.com (http://waynegov.com/347/Register-of-Deeds), and when you get there on the menu on the left you will see where it says ‘fraud protection,’” Harrison said. “Just click on the ‘fraud protection.’ It comes up for you, and you want to go down under the picture of the little house where it has rod.waynegov.com/External/Sentry/Home.aspx and click on that.
“It will give detailed instructions. It tells you how to create an account there. Above that is a place that says ‘instructions here.’ They can be read or printed off. I printed mine off and did it as soon as we got it going. It took me two minutes. It is very simple. What happens if somebody files something that you are not sure of, you don’t know it is being filed with your name on it, there will be a notification emailed. It tells you a paper has been filed.”
The Wayne County Register of Deeds office, located on the first floor of the Wayne County Courthouse Annex on William Street, records real estate, stores and issues certified copies of county births, deaths, marriages, as well as issues marriage licenses. It also administers notary oaths to Wayne County notaries.
“These are some of the duties we perform in the office,” Harrison said. “Please let us know how we can assist you. I feel this free service is vital for the protection of our citizens. I urge you to sign up today.
“Please contact our office at 919-731-1449 if you need assistance. Any staff member will help you.”