Every year, dozens of Arizona homeowners fall victim to deed fraud, also known as title theft, in which scammers are able to steal their houses right out from under them by forging their signatures on deed transfers.
Between January 2021 and August 2022, at least 65 complaints of deed fraud were filed with the state Attorney General’s Office, prompting the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office to launch “Maricopa Title Alert,” a new alert system in 2023 that alerts users if their name appears on new documents filed with the county recorder.
“For many Arizonans, stealing their house is the same as their life savings,” said Attorney General Mark Brnovich in a press release. “Homeowners should regularly monitor the status of their property with the county to quickly detect any fraudulent or unlawful activity.”
Here’s what every Arizona homeowner should know:
What is deed fraud?
Deed fraud happens when someone forges a deed or a homeowner’s signature with the intent to steal a home then sell the home to an innocent buyer and keep all the proceeds from the sale.
In order to accomplish this, the thief must first illegally obtain ownership of the home. Typically, the thief forges and records a deed, usually with the help of an unscrupulous notary. This forged deed has the apparent effect of transferring the home into the thief’s name (or an assumed identity).
Then the thief enters into a contract to sell the property to an innocent buyer. Sometimes the thief finds a buyer using roadside signs, and sometimes the thief is bold enough to list the property on the MLS. After a buyer is found, escrow is usually opened with a title company. Although the escrow company reviews the chain of title, the forged deed typically does not raise any red flags because it appears to have been signed by the true owner.
Once escrow closes, the thief runs away with the money, and the true owner never expects a thing. As a result, the true owner loses their home and all the equity in their home. This can be devastating to people who have worked hard for their home or have inherited a family home.
Many homeowners become victims of deed fraud and the amount of people victimized by this illegal action is increasing every year. People who live in their homes or have mortgages may be less victimized than property management companies, out-of-state homeowners, those who own their homes free-and-clear, and the recently deceased. Victims of deed fraud can lose everything if they don’t act fast. Legal guidance is available.
Legal help for Arizona title theft victims
If you discovered that the title to your home was fraudulently transferred, you must act quickly. A knowledgeable Arizona attorney may be able to help you recover title to your home. Successfully combating deed fraud may be complicated and may require filing a lawsuit and corresponding with criminal investigators and title insurance companies. Contact Faith Law online or at 623-806-8994 for a consultation. We have been serving Arizona residents for over 40 years from our offices in Surprise, Avondale and Goodyear.