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County moves to protect residents from property deed fraud

Marin County residents have a new resource to help protect them from property deed fraud, which county officials called one of the country’s fastest-growing white collar crimes.

Marin County Assessor-Recorder-County Clerk Shelly Scott and District Attorney Lori Frugoli have launched a local program that notifies property owners when documents have been filed about an ownership transfer.

County officials said such fraud happens when a fraudulent deed is recorded against a property and that, in many cases, the owner may not even be aware that a deed was recorded changing ownership of their property.

Under the new program, property owners or former property owners will be notified by letter about a recent filing with the Recorder’s Office. If they are aware of the transfer, they don’t need to act.

If they are not aware, they should contact their local police department or the District Attorney’s real estate fraud division as soon as possible via the program’s website at https://www.marincountyda.org/service/real-estate-fraud.

Scott said:

“Deed fraud is a serious crime. … We’ve seen reports from Southern California of rightful homeowners having to spend lots of money in legal fees to resolve issues after they have been harassed by criminals. We want to be proactive with this and prevent Marin residents from being victimized.”

Frugoli said her staff is particularly focused on deed fraud because Marin County has a large population of senior long-term generational homeowners whose homes have built up a lot of equity. Marin has the highest percentage of seniors out of California’s 58 counties, and preventing financial elder abuse is a shared goal with the new program.

Frugoli said:

“These homeowners could easily be victimized by friends and/or family members.”  

She added:

“We are happy to collaborate on this program with the Assessor-Recorder’s Office. Our real estate fraud investigator will address any reported fraud or suspected fraud.”

Scott and Frugoli offer several recommendations for homeowners to protect themselves from such fraud:

  • Check with the County Recorder often using the online records search tool (https://apps.marincounty.org/RecordersIndexSearch) to make sure that there are no deeds or mortgages you don’t know about on your property.
  • If your property is not occupied, check often to make sure it is not occupied illegally.
  • Ask someone you trust to look after your house if you are going to be away for a long period of time.
  • Do not let mail pile up if you are going out of town.
  • Make sure that the Assessor and Tax Collector have the correct mailing address for you or the person who should receive notices about your property;
  • Contact them if you suddenly stop receiving notices that you used to get, such as your tax bill; and
  • Report suspected fraud to the District Attorney’s Office immediately.
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