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Montgomery County seeing more ‘quit claim’ deed fraud than ever before

Deed fraud is on the rise in Montgomery County, and local leaders are urging property owners — particularly the owners of vacant or rental properties or houses that recently went up for sale — to be on the lookout.

Montgomery County Recorder Stacey Benson-Taylor said at a press conference Monday that her office is seeing a significant uptick in complaints related to “quit claim” deeds.

What used to be one to two complaints per month in 2021 has turned into two to three complaints per week.

The county recorder is working to raise awareness regarding the sale of property through fraudulent documents, and the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office is investigating several of these cases.

“This is important; we cannot stand by and just allow people to come in and steal properties,” Benson-Taylor said.

Quit claim deeds are quick ways to transfer property and often are used by family members. But in these schemes, a quit claim deed with a false signature of the owner, coupled with a negligent or complicit notarization, is recorded against the property.

Once recorded, the perpetrator immediately tries to sell the property to an unsuspecting buyer.

The scheme is not new. A man was indicted by the Montgomery County Prosecutor’s Office in 2018 on 25 counts in connection with filing fraudulent property deeds; he remains at large, according to Montgomery County Clerk of Courts records.

Benson-Taylor said her office has a watchlist of several people who are appearing as notaries on documents who are not registered with the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office or have other activity that raises red flags.

The county recorder said anyone can be impacted by deed fraud, but properties falling victim locally tend to be owned by people who do not live locally and cannot check on their properties regularly.

Properties that are going up for rent or sale can also be at risk. Perpetrators of deed fraud often look at websites where people can search property sales, like Trulia, Benson-Taylor said.

Count auditor’s offices are responsible for the county’s deed transfer department.

“Deed fraud is a very real issue and we’ve seen it in the auditor’s office,” said Mike Brill, a Montgomery County Auditor’s Office spokesperson. “We’ve heard from property owners who call us reaching out saying they know something’s going down with their property and they want to see what we can do.”

Brill said the auditor’s office processes tens of thousands of deed transfers on a yearly basis. In recent years, the auditor has been rejecting more deeds than in past years for not meeting legal requirements.

The Montgomery County Recorder’s Office operates a free notification system to keep property owners in the loop for documents related to their properties.

Those enrolled in The Fraud Alert Notification System (FANS) can opt to receive an email, a letter or both whenever a deed, a mortgage or a lien is filed on parcels enrolled in the service.

Residents can enroll on the county recorder’s website or at its office.