Legal-Ease: Ohio deed fraud on the rise

When you purchase real property, you attend a closing (which is not always in person) and the seller(s) sign(s) a deed to you as buyer. This deed identifies the property (with a legal description approved by the county tax map office). Upon the deed getting executed the deed then gets recorded by the title company in the county recorder’s office. In most cases, the original deed then gets returned to the buyer after recording.

Most people who are buyers know that when they get a signed deed upon the purchase of real property that they are then the owners of the real property.

Additionally, most people assume nothing will ever be recorded in their name unless they personally sign another deed.

Unfortunately, deed fraud is on the rise in Ohio (as with all types of fraud) and people can and do lose ownership or use of real property that they have bought and paid for. Deed fraud is when malicious actors forge signatures, falsify documents, and/or illegally transfer property titles to themselves.

How does deed fraud tend to happen? Some fraudsters are contacting realtors to sell properties they do not own. For example, a person posing as the owner of a property may ask a realtor to list the property and even present a fake ID to prove their ownership. If not caught and a transaction is completed, the fraudster ends up taking the money and disappears. Leaving the buyer with a property they believe they’ve purchased but isn’t lawfully theirs.

Title companies and realtors are trained to exercise due diligence and to be vigilant and attentive to try and notice deed fraud before it occurs. But there is no question that deed fraud is on the rise even though currently it is still a rare occurrence across the state.

What can you do to help protect yourself and make yourself aware if deed fraud were to happen to you? Some local counties, like Allen County, allow people to sign up for free software that alerts an individual if a document gets recorded and contains their name. Not all counties offer alert programs like this, but the number of counties offering this type of service is on the rise and you can check with your county to see if a program is offered in your county. The software offered by Allen County is called AlertMe.

AlertMe works by an individual using his or her email address to register for the AlertMe software. Upon registering with the county recorder’s office, the software is designed to email an individual if a document is recorded in that county obtaining his or her name.

Thus, when deed fraud happens a person is alerted and notified. The downfall with the alert software is that it is not able to prevent deed fraud but merely notifies a person once deed fraud happens.

However, being notified quickly and promptly when deed fraud does occur would help law enforcement find the fraudsters.

Nichole Y. Shafer is an Ohio-licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LTD in Putnam County. She limits her practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. She can be reached at [email protected] or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.