For virtually as long as writing has existed, there have been laws prohibiting document falsification. For the most part, forging techniques remained quite unchanged. Modern digital technology, on the other hand, has substantially increased the number of people who can produce fake documents. Although “paperless” applications are becoming more common in real estate transactions, most aspects of the industry remain firmly planted in the paper. This is especially true in the case of public real estate records. While the media in California may focus on how blockchain and other digital tools are transforming the real estate industry, real estate counterfeiting is still mostly based on the creation of documents that can be printed on paper.
Forgery Laws in California
The forgery statute in California, codified in California Penal Code 470, covers a wide range of acts. In addition to signing another person’s name to documents without their permission, the act makes it illegal to intentionally “alter, corrupt, or fabricate any record of any… conveyance,” which includes real estate papers such as grants and deeds. When a person willfully files “any false or fraudulent instrument” with a government agency, such as a county recorder’s office, they commit a felony under California Penal Code 115. County recorders can accept “digitized photographs, digital images, or both” of a recordable document for submission, according to state law.
In fact, as part of “any scheme or artifice to defraud, deceive, or extort,” Section 502(c)(1) forbids modifying or deleting data stored on another person’s computer or computer network. Attempts to fabricate or fake digital documents influencing real estate transactions to fall under this category.
If a fake real estate document is discovered in the public record, it is void as a matter of law. Even if a person purchased real estate in good faith, the presence of counterfeit or false documents in the chain of title may render the transaction illegitimate. In a 2012 ruling from a California Appellate Court, for example, the sale of a property at a foreclosure auction was declared null and unlawful. According to the court, the prior owners had no awareness that a falsified second deed of trust had been recorded, resulting in the foreclosure. Although the buyers at the foreclosure auction were unaware of or involved in the fabrication, a counterfeit deed of trust cannot convey the title. As a result, the foreclosure and purchase of the property were rendered null and void.
Examples of Real Estate Forgery
In most cases of forgery of real estate papers in California, false signatures and counterfeit deeds, and other documents required to confer title are still involved. The purpose of many of these techniques is to get phony documents into the public record by using computers to manufacture fraudulent documents.
A man was recently convicted of forgery and filing a fake document after recording a deed purporting to transfer a residence wholly owned by his estranged wife into his own name. Another recent instance involves the use of fraudulent paperwork to show lenders that outstanding loans had been fully paid off. This is said to have resulted in nearly $50 million in new loans. Fraud and aggravated identity theft were among the charges.
How to spot and avoid deed theft scams
Protecting your identity is the greatest method to avoid deed and title theft schemes. Apart from the frauds listed below, this is a good practice in general because your identity might be used for a variety of other scams. Knowing when someone obtains sensitive elements of your personal data is difficult, if not impossible, therefore taking precautions to keep it private is critical.
Be cautious about what information you publish on social media, and be on the lookout for odd emails, phishing efforts, and phone scams. When calling customer service or returning a phone call, it’s customary for them to ask for confirmation, but it’s crucial to be cautious when answering an unprompted call. Make sure you’re speaking to the appropriate person while dealing with a corporate representative over the phone. No one should ever ask you for your account password, no matter what the scenario is, therefore maintain it a well-kept secret.
Keep vital documents in a safe place at home or in a bank’s safety deposit box. If you need to dispose of a document containing sensitive information, make sure you do so correctly. Cutting documents with scissors is unlikely to suffice; you must ensure that the pieces are small enough to prevent them from being reassembled.
Your mail can also reveal critical information about whether or not something is amiss. Look through your junk mail for pamphlets, fliers, or bills from a mortgage firm that isn’t yours before tossing it. If you see anything unusual, contact the lending firm to find out what’s up.
Regularly checking your credit score is another helpful general practice for spotting identity theft. Most services will list all of your debts, so if you notice a line of credit or debt that you didn’t ask for, you’ll know something’s wrong. When fraudsters take out loans in your name, they don’t pay them back, so keep a check on your credit score for any sudden, unexpected drops.
Finally, it’s a good idea to check your county’s records for your residence on a regular basis to ensure that the signatures and names are correct. Examine your papers for errors or documentation you don’t recall filing, and keep a lookout for signatures from lawyers you don’t recognize. Some counties offer notification systems that you can sign up for to keep track of everything. When paperwork for your property is updated, they’ll send you emails or SMS messages.
We have more than a decade of expertise representing property owners and buyers in court. Mortgage audits online are your best option in this type of circumstances. We render help from start to finish, all you have to do is trust us to handle all procedures for you. To schedule a confidential consultation, please contact us online or call our legal firm.
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