Fraudulent deeds have bedeviled landowners for centuries. It is a problem that is not going away anytime soon.
The beginning of property rights in the United States traces back to the Land Ordinance Act of 1785. That was the law that permitted the United States to confiscate the land from whatever Crown owned it, survey it, title it to the federal government, and then sell it to individuals. The Act led to adoption of a raft of definitions and procedures which are still in use.
What is a Deed
The ownership of a parcel of land is called its title. A land title is legally conveyed by a written document called a property deed, which transfers the legal rights to the property from a current owner to a new owner.
The person conveying the property is called a grantor. The person receiving the property is called the grantee.
To be valid, the deed must be signed by the grantor, describe the land, and identify the grantee. After the grantor signs the deed, it is filed in the deed records of the county where the land is located so that the public has notice that the title has changed from the grantor to the new grantee.
Few people look at the public deed records. The records do not, after all, make for interesting reading.
Even fewer people know how to do their own search of public deed records, although computers make that easy. For most counties, you can search property online by grantor, grantee, or property address.
Now we come to the issue at hand: fraudulent deeds. Sometimes an evil doer will forge the grantor’s signature to a deed and then file the forged deed in the county deed records. This makes it look, to the casual observer, as if the owner has conveyed title to the land to a new owner.
The fraudulent new owner then tries to take out a mortgage on the land or sell or rent the land to someone else.
Of course, it is all a fraud and a crime. It is also a huge headache for the true owner, who usually does not discover the fraudulent deed until someone tries to kick them out of their house or foreclose on a bogus mortgage. The only way to clear things up is for the true owner to hire a lawyer and go to court. That is time-consuming and can be expensive.
It is a truism that one scam often begets a second scam. Because fraudulent deeds do happen, an opportunistic industry has arisen with a new product: the “title lock.” This is a product sold to property owners under the guise of protecting their real estate title.
Except that, if you read closely, you will see that the product does not protect your title. It is only a deed monitoring service. It is not insurance. It will not pay your legal fees to go to court and clear up your title.
A “title lock” does not give you any extra protection because you are already protected by the law. A fraudulent deed does not convey your title. It is void and unenforceable. It cannot be used to transfer title to your property, even when the proposed purchaser is unaware of the fraud. It is a pain to deal with, but so are most scams.
Fraudulent deed victims are often elderly, but this type of scam can hit any property owner. Doubling down on a “title lock” subscription is not going to help.
Hammerle Finley Can Help With Your Real Estate Needs
The real estate attorneys at Hammerle Finley are experienced in all these matters and are ready to assist you. We are experienced at representing buyers of residential real estate properties. Reach out today to schedule a consultation.
Virginia Hammerle is an attorney with Hammerle Finley Law Firm. She is entering her 40th year in the practice of law. She is Board Certified in Civil Trial Law by the Texas Board of Legal specialization. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to receive her firm’s newsletter.