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‘All they need is pen & paper,’ warning as ‘title pirates’ stealing homes from under people – danger is in your mailbox

AFTER a new law passed last year that now requires Florida’s clerk of court offices to offer a free property fraud alert system to homeowners, the system helped catch its first crook.

Larry and Dreama Bilby decided to register their home while it was being renovated, and within two days they received a fraud alert.

Fox 13

Larry and Dreama Bilby faced issues when they registered their home with their local clerk’s office[/caption]

Fox 13

The State of Florida passed a law that would offer a free property fraud alert system to homeowners[/caption]

Getty

This system helped to catch another pair committing fraud (stock image)[/caption]

It turns out that another married couple, Michelle Cherry and Victor Rodriguez, went to the Hillsborough County Clerk’s office in February and fraudulently filed a quit claim deed on the Bilby’s property.

This deed transferred ownership of the Bilby’s property to Cherry and Rodriguez.

“I was so angry I almost couldn’t talk,” Dream told local Fox affiliate WTVT-TV.

The Bilby’s also started to notice that some of their mail was coming up missing.

They were also receiving things in the mail addressed to Cherry.

“We saw she registered her driver’s license to my address,” said Larry.

The fraudulent couple even had food delivered to the house, which sparked neighbors to get involved.

In March, police showed up at the property and spoke to Cherry, who told police it was her property and that she had been having issues with the previous owner.

Cherry called the police to the property after a neighbor intervened and snatched a piece of mail with Larry’s name on it from her.

When asked if she is renting by police, she looks at the officer and “says no I own it,” and explains that she has “an agreement” with the previous owner.


She also says despite being the owner, she does not own a set of keys because she is in a nasty legal dispute with the Bilby’s, which was another lie.

Two weeks later, the couple was arrested during a traffic stop for committing fraud.

“She had a forged deed in her car at the time of her arrest,” Hillsborough State Attorney Suzy Lopez said.

“She is looking at over 275 years in the Florida State Prison for what she is alleged to have done,” she explained.

What is deed fraud?

DEED fraud is a general term used to categorize any for of fraud used to commandeer someone’s home illicitly through seemingly legal methods

Some forms of this fraud are committed in typical grifter fashion, through smooth-talking scammers targeting down-on-their-luck targets, sometimes promising loan forgiveness or mortgage refinancing.

Other times, as with many quit claim deed fraud schemes, the scammers forge the paperwork to show they own a person’s home without the true owner ever knowing.

David Fleck, a South Carolinian real estate lawyer said that technological advancements have allowed more sophisticated fraudsters to make quit deed scams commonplace.

“Twenty-five years ago, it wasn’t easy to forge documents. Now, literally, every computer has the technology to create a believable forgery, and you can buy a fake notary stamp online,” he told Realtor.com.

“So the technology has very quickly gotten ahead of the systems we have in place to prevent this,” warns Fleck.

In any form of deed fraud, the victim seldom knows about the scam until long down the line when they try to apply for a loan or need paperwork on the home and it turns out they no longer are the owners.

Then, the only way back to homeownership is a potentially emotionally draining and lengthy legal battle.

“She has seven counts of a crime that is a first-degree felony, punishable by up to 30 years by stealing someone’s identity, and that carries a ten-year mandatory minimum prison sentence.”

A COMMON OCCURANCE

Unfortunately, deed fraud has become a common type of scam throughout the country.

In Detroit, Michigan, 2,300 fraud cases have been opened since 2005 when the Mortgage and Deed Fraud Unit, was created.

This task force has since convicted 347 people of deed fraud in Wayne County.

“All you need is a pen and paper,” Bernard Youngblood, the Wayne County Register of Deeds, told local news outlet Bridge Detroit.

“You don’t even need to leave your house.”

One Detroit native, Donna Alford, spoke to local Fox affiliate WJBK-TV about her story.

She, just like the Bilby’s, had set out to do renovations on her home when she was told the deed had been changed, and her dad signed it.

Problem is, her father, George Booth, had been dead for over two years at this point.

But while there was no doubt that Booth’s signature had been forged, the issue still had to be investigated by police.

“You’re in for at least a two or three-year ride,” she explained of the process to sort everything out.

After her story was published by WJBK-TV, the Macomb Register of Deeds took notice and Alford was able to see justice brought to the two individuals who committed fraud against her.

But deed fraud isn’t just an issue in Florida and Detroit issue.

Youngblood noted it is a major concern to law enforcement agencies and register of deeds offices around the entire country.

Youngblood said he even met with U.S. Senator Gary Peters to discuss what options Congress may have to address deed fraud at the federal level.

Tampa Police

Victor Rodriguez (pictured) and his wife Michelle Cherry were arrested in relation to this incident[/caption]

Tampa Police

Michelle Cherry (pictured) and Rodriguez had fraudulently filed a quit claim deed on the Bilby’s property[/caption]

Tampa Police

The couple was arrested during a traffic stop and charged with fraud[/caption]

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