NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Con artists are easily stealing homes in New York City through “dirty deeds.”
As CBS2’s Steve Langford reported Monday night, scam artists are accessing homeowners’ deeds online and then putting these homes up for sale, entering into contracts with several unsuspecting buyers, and flipping it for a profit.
“As long as you have the address, that’s all you need,” Jason Reddish, real estate expert and chief executive officer of Total Merchant Resources, told CBS2.
Pamela Page and her husband told CBS2 a similar experience happened to them. They bought a brownstone in Harlem, and when they were preparing to renovate it, they found out con artists used a copy of their deed and forged drivers’ licenses to pose as them.
The con artists then put the home up for sale and entered into contracts with several buyers.
Page said it was “one of the most surreal experiences of my life.”
She continued, “They’ll collect many deposits and then they’ll sell the building once, and they’ll take that money as well.”
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance told CBS2 that his office is currently investigating 100 similar cases in which the deeds were all easily obtained online.
“With all the best intentions of making our records and property files transparent, cyber thieves are as creative as any other type of thief and have found a way to make a lot of money,” Vance said.
Vance said this type of “crime is committed before you blinked an eye.”
Detective Teresa Russo of the New York City Sheriff’s Office told CBS2 that the scam works in several ways, but the end result for many is the same.
“It displaces them. It moves them out of the home that they’ve known all their lives,” Russo said.
“In some of these scams, the attorneys, the notaries, the title company — they’re all involved,” added New York City Sheriff Joseph Fucito.
But Fucito said you can protect yourself.
For starters, he said, always hire your own attorney. Mortgage expert Reddish added that you should also obtain title insurance.
“As a homeowner, you have responsibilities – to cut the lawn, take care of plumbing. You should check online and get savvy with the system to make sure that your deed is in your name,” Reddish told CBS2.
The sheriff’s office is currently investigating 500 cases of deed fraud throughout the five boroughs.
Vance told CBS2 the Finance Department is working on setting up a system where it will call homeowners should it spot fraudulent activity on a deed – similar to what banks do with suspicious credit card activity.