Property owners given greater legal protection for fighting back when confronted with fraud
June 12, 2014, Pontiac, MI - Oakland County Clerk/Register of Deeds Lisa Brown today announced that property owners have greater protection against real estate fraud and her office has the legal authority to fight it.
"I am committed to empowering Oakland County residents with the tools they need to protect their assets, and this is another step forward in fighting real estate fraud," Brown said.
Brown worked with State Representative Ellen Cogen Lipton to request an official opinion from the Attorney General's Office to help protect homeowners from real estate fraud when a person with no previous claim to a property pays delinquent taxes and then places a lien upon the property, the first steps in a scheme to steal the property from the rightful owner. Upon reviewing the request, the Attorney General's Office determined that a person without a previous interest in a property cannot gain an interest simply by paying back taxes.
This means the Oakland County Clerk/Register of Deeds Office will no longer accept liens filed by individuals with no interest in a property, also known as "strangers to the title," simply because they paid delinquent property taxes.
"My office will work hard to head off this fraud before it becomes a problem for the property owner," Brown said. "I am working with the County Treasurer's Office to be proactive in determining whether someone paying delinquent taxes has a legal claim to the property. And I look forward to working with the prosecutor and law enforcement to protect our residents from scams that aim to steal their property."
In some cases, fraudsters find a home with delinquent taxes, pay a portion of the back taxes, place a lien on the property and, in most cases, file a fraudulent deed on the property. At that point a vacant home can be turned into a rental property or sold out from under the rightful owner, putting money into the pocket of a criminal. In other cases, where the homes are still occupied by the rightful owners, the fraudster could solicit large sums of cash from the owners in exchange for releasing the lien. The opinion from the state gives property owners more legal protection to fight back.
This is another step in Brown's ongoing effort to crack down on real estate fraud in Oakland County. In May, Brown's office launched the Super Index, a massive database that contains nearly 12 million documents filed with Oakland County dating back to 1964. Powered by Google and Xerox, the Super Index uses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to make documents filed with the Register of Deeds Office searchable by any piece of information contained in it. A homeowner can use his or her name, address, a notary's name - any information contained in the document to search for it.
"If we find a common thread - like a fraudulent notary's signature - every document containing that name can be found in seconds using the Super Index," Brown said. "The rightful homeowners can be then alerted that something illegal may be happening with their property. This opinion gives those homeowners the legal tools they need to bring the perpetrators to justice."