Sometimes it stops there. Sometimes it goes farther. Sometimes the thief takes out a mortgage, on your property that they have stolen without you knowing, and they disappear with the money. Sometimes the thief just re-sells your house to some unsuspecting mark who pays good money for a deed.
You don't get a dime, of course, because you have no idea that any of this is happening. Your first inkling that your house has been sold out from under you is when you get the eviction notice from the chump who thinks he owns your house. By then the thief is long gone, maybe to a nice beach in a country with no extradition treaty with the United States.
I've seen this happen all over Brooklyn. But it's not a local problem. An article in the Wall Street Journal this week focused on a case of deed fraud in Manhattan. A senior citizen in Harlem was the victim. The article mentioned that this is a national problem. It's happening in Chicago and Detroit, too. Read the article here.
There was always an undercurrent of deed fraud in the real estate business, but things have gotten easier for the thieves. Now that property records are online in New York City, and lots of other places, it's a snap to see past deeds, mortgages, and signatures of owners. You were always able to go to the city clerk's office and see all this, but now you can see it online. Property research is easier now for attorneys, brokers, owners, and even thieves.
Now that all your property records are online, authorities consider deed fraud to be in the same crime category as other forms of identity theft and cyber crime. In Manhattan the District Attorney's office is taking this threat seriously. In Brooklyn, not so much from what I see.
The New York City Sheriff's Department, part of the city's Department of Finance, takes it more seriously. The Sheriff's Department has set up a special unit to investigate deed fraud. Deed fraud bothers the city because it has an effect on taxes the city likes to collect.
That's human nature. Put your hand in someone's pocket and they tend to notice. The city government is like that. Mess with tax collections, and you get noticed. In my humble opinion, the city government is looking out for itself when it investigates deed fraud. They don't care about you, specifically.
If you want to protect yourself, you are on your own. You're flying solo through rough air. You better have a plan to make sure you don't crash and burn. In aviation we are taught to use all available resources to get us through situations we may face as pilots. The same attitude can help protect your house and your financial interests.
Here is one resource I have written about before. Sign up online for automatic email notices any time any document is recorded against your property. You've already paid for this service through your taxes. Go here. Enter every property you own. Register your contact information. The system works. Use it. Don't fly solo through real estate space.
Here's another resource for you: www.LevyNau.com. That's my law firm's website. Click, call or visit for more information, or if you suspect deed fraud.