Real Estate & Property Law

Wave of Foreclosures and Vacant Homes Sparks Surge in Quit-Claim Deed Fraud

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Apparently seeing an opportunity in the wave of mortgage foreclosures, opportunists are using vacant homes as an invitation to work a scam, Florida officials say.

By filing a fraudulent quit-claim deed they can tie up the title and either live in the home themselves or rent it out while the true ownership is being sorted out, reports the Palm Beach Post.

“It’s terrible when someone steals your identity, but imagine what it’s like when someone steals your home,” says Palm Beach Clerk of Court Sharon Bock. “Some of this isn’t just isolated incidents, it’s literally criminals with the intent to defraud.”

In one such case, Heather and Ronald Nicholls say they weren’t even in the country when a notary supposedly witnessed their signatures and executed a deed on the Loxahatchee home they owned and paid some $400,000 for before the real estate market crashed. But the notary tells the newspaper the signature on the document isn’t his, the Post recounts.

The couple let the home go into foreclosure when they had to move to Barbados to get work. A real estate agent trying to find a buyer for a short sale that would help get the couple off the hook discovered that it was occupied last summer.

Initially quit-claimed to a business owned by Teresa York, the house has now been quit-claimed again to her individually. She says she has done nothing wrong and paid the couple $2,000 to take over their mortgage. Since then, she says, she has spent $20,000 fixing up the 4,400-square-foot home.

She admits she hasn’t made any rent or mortgage payments since the summer but says a lawsuit filed by Heather and Ronald Nicholls over the transaction is the reason why. “I was waiting to get this court thing taken care of,” she tells the newspaper.

Authorities are investigating the couple’s allegations of fraud.

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