Deed Fraud: Stealing a Property With the Stroke Of A Pen

Copy of seiter_deed fraud

Note: This article is a guest post from Jesi L. Wolnik, Esq.

Recently, I received an email from a real estate agent asking for assistance with a matter where deed fraud or house stealing was suspected. Here is an excerpt of the email:

I’ve been asked to list a lot in Maricopa County for $600,000. I am concerned as the Seller doesn’t seem to know much about the property. Issues I have identified include:

  • German passport
  • The tax mailing address shows the owners live in Washington, not Germany.
  • The passports presented look doctored.
  • Signatures on the passports do not match signatures on recorded documents.
  • When the individual calls me, his phone shows John Williams. When I call him, I get a google voice message and he normally calls me back, but rarely answers when I call him.
  • He calls himself Williams, not John. And he signs his name, Williams John.

The caller asked for my opinion on the facts presented.

My opinion? This real estate agent is sharp and just caught a criminal trying to commit deed fraud! The above scenario is common, and I regularly receive calls and emails about deed fraud. I am often asked, “what properties are targeted?”

There’s no question that vacant land, owned free and clear, is a common target. And once a property is targeted, these criminals will continue their efforts until they find a real estate agent willing to list the property.

So what can be done if a property you own has been targeted or stolen by a stroke of the pen? Contact a real estate attorney!  A real estate attorney can assist with several steps such as 1) making a claim on your title insurance policy, if applicable, 2) requesting the title insurance company to put an alert in their system for your property address so that it is more difficult to target in the future, 3) recording a Notice with the County Recorder of the potential fraud.

Several counties also offer a free alert service that property owners may sign-up for to receive notice if a document is recorded against their property.

Here are links to those counties:

Maricopa County:

Pinal County:

Yavapai County:

Mohave County:

Unfortunately, most individuals do not know their property has been targeted until it’s too late. You may want to update your title insurance policy and confirm the policy will give you deed fraud protection. With an updated policy including deed fraud protection, the homeowner would then have an insurance policy in place should deed fraud occur on their property!

Jesi L. Wolnik, Esq.

Jesi L. Wolnik, PLC, 1166 E. Warner Road, Suite 101, Gilbert, AZ 85296 / 602-723-8023

This article reflects only the opinion of the author, is not intended as definitive legal advice, and you should not act upon it without seeking independent legal counsel.