Belleville: 618-234-9800 | Edwardsville: 618-656-2244 | ST. LOUIS: 314-421-2325

By: Christina A. Peters

What is deed fraud?

Deed fraud, sometimes called property fraud, often occurs when the title to real estate is transferred and recorded illegally without the consent or knowledge of the legal owner by using a false identification or fake notary stamp to forge the owner’s signature. Properties that are not transferred after death or left vacant and unmaintained are regular targets of this practice. After the deed is recorded, the new owner may attempt to swiftly sell the property to turn a quick profit. They may also attempt to move in the property or rent it out. Sometimes the new buyers transfer the properties into the name of a shell business or unrelated third-person to make it more difficult to connect the fraud to the ultimate thief. In some instances, deed fraud occurs by undue influence over family members.

How can legal property owners can protect themselves?

There are many tools property owners may use to protect themselves from deed fraud. A person who owns vacant real estate, should consider visiting the property regularly to look for signs of invasion or install cameras on the property. Property owners should also see if their county recorder’s office has a fraud alert system. These alert systems monitor for new information related the property enrolled on their website and alert the owner anytime new information is recorded. Many local counties including St. Clair County, IL, Madison County, IL, St. Louis City County, MO and St. Louis County, MO offer fraud alert monitoring at https://www.propertyfraudalert.com/.

Property fraud may also be avoided with proper estate planning. A property owner may consult with an attorney to discuss relatively inexpensive options such as changing the current deed to include joint tenancy with rights of survivorship or preparing a transfer on death deed. For property owners with multiple properties or a variety of assets, a trust is an attractive option with a responsible trustee.

If a legitimate buyer desires to purchase a vacant property, the buyer should not skip due diligence. A title search performed by a title company can reveal recent title transfers. A buyer should especially be alarmed by quitclaim property transfers occurring shortly before the sale and thoroughly investigate such transfers. Further, a buyer should purchase a title insurance policy that sufficiently covers issues with the transfer of title.

What should I do if I am a victim of property fraud?

Victims of property fraud should contact the local authorities as well as the county recorder’s office to alert them of the illegitimate transfer. If the person defrauded is a new buyer of the property, the new buyer should contact the title insurance company to see if the transfer was covered and await resolution.

If the property owner does not have title insurance, an attorney should be consulted to pursue an action for cancellation of the deed procured by fraud. Fraud may be proven by circumstantial, or direct, evidence. Swiney v. Womack, 343 Ill. 278, 175 N.E. 419 (1931). It may sufficient enough to just show a misrepresentation in deeds or evidence if the consideration paid for a property is so gross and palpable as to amount, in itself.. See Woolbright, Inc. v. Sarver, 114 Ill. App. 2d (1969), Sullivan v. Sullivan, 79 Ill. App. 2d 194, 223 N.E.2d 461 (4th Dist. 1967), and Logue v. Von Almen, 379 Ill. 208, 40 N.E.2d 73, 140 (1941).

Professional Services Disclaimer: Please note that the information presented here is as an educational service, and while it contains information about legal issues, it is not legal advice. No warranty is made regarding the applicability of the information presented to a particular client situation, and the information set forth is not a substitute for original legal research, analysis and drafting for a particular client situation.