St. Charles County property owners will get a warning about title theft and property fraud with their tax bills this year. The crime involves registering a fake deed with forged signatures to claim ownership of a property, in order to sell it or take out fraudulent loans against the property.
“It hasn’t happened here yet, but it could,” says Recorder of Deeds Mary Dempsey, who is among the region’s recorders examining new ways to detect title theft. Dempsey is urging St. Charles County property owners to sign up for the County’s Property Fraud Alert system, a free notification service that helps owners detect these types of scams.
Property Fraud Alert subscribers receive an automated message when a document is recorded in St. Charles County. Those who receive an alert are encouraged to call the Recorder’s Office at 636-949-7505 to verify if their property is impacted.
“Right now there are almost 9,700 registrations in the Property Fraud Alert system, but we would like if it was everyone, including businesses and trusts,” Dempsey says. “This type of fraud tends to target victims who won’t notice the problem right away. Usually that’s owners of vacant property, or homes that don’t have a mortgage or lien on them.”
To sign up for Property Fraud Alert, go to PropertyFraudAlert.com/MOStCharles. All you have to do is submit your name or the name of your business or trust, along with an email or phone number where you would like to receive notifications.
Red Flags For Buyers
Since the objective of property fraud is often to pawn a stolen house or land onto an honest buyer, the American Land Title Association advises property buyers to watch for these red flags:
- The property is not owner-occupied and has no outstanding mortgage or liens that would confirm the owner’s identity.
- The property is for sale below market value.
- The seller wants a quick sale and doesn’t even negotiate fees.
- The seller asks for payment by cash or wire transfer.
- The seller refuses to attend a signing in-person and claims to be out of the state or country.
- The seller is difficult to reach by phone or video; only communicates by text or email; and/or resists identity verification.
- The seller insists on using their own notary for the sale.