No Good Deeds Done by These Dallas Degenerates
Fake deeds have become a real issue for North Texas residents in recent years. This form of real estate fraud has local law enforcement struggling to fight back, especially since forging fraudulent deeds isn’t as hard as you might hope. Take the case of Arnoldo Ortiz, a con artist in Dallas who was charged with stealing and reselling more than 25 homes.
Dallas’ Home Scam Hassles
In an interview with WFAA, Ortiz said it was easy to fabricate the deeds with the intent to transfer the title of a property to himself or one of his companies.
"It shouldn't be like that, but that's how easy it was,” said Ortiz, who pled guilty to more than 25 counts of theft and received a 10-year prison sentence in early 2018.
Investigators found that Ortiz would get a legitimate document notarized, then cut and paste the notary stamp onto a forged document — a practice made famous by Frank Abagnale Jr., a notable American con artist.
Ortiz is among a growing number of individuals who were convicted or under investigation for fraudulently deeding over properties, including family homes, to themselves or various companies they own. William Baldridge was another local real estate investor who was arrested in 2019 for forging fraudulent deeds and reselling properties, stealing nearly a half-dozen homes in the Dallas area.
“A person’s home is their castle and their American dream," said Phillip Clark, Dallas County Assistant District Attorney to WFAA. "It’s shocking that someone would try to steal that away with nothing but a fake signature. But as quick and easy as it is for someone to commit this kind of crime, it costs victims months or even years of stress and expensive litigation to fix it – both for homeowners and unsuspecting buyers."
The scam has become so troublesome that a "Deed Fraud Task Force" of federal and local law enforcement has been formed.
Clark explained that this type of real estate fraud affects all properties at all types of value —and no property is safe. In 2021, First Christian Church's Rev. Melissa Bitting was horrified to discover that someone had claimed to be the church chairman and deeded the church to a non-member for a mere $10. The property is valued at $700,000, and it belongs to one of the oldest church congregations in North Texas.
In his interview with WFAA regarding the theft of the First Christian Church, Clark verified that the Dallas County’s district attorney’s office had identified at least 90 properties stolen through deed fraud over the past two years. What’s worse? In many of these cases, scammers often forged the signatures of deceased individuals to gain ownership of their properties.
How Is Property Stolen So Easily?
One significant problem with trying to prevent and catch fraudulent deeds is that when property records are filed with the county clerk, no one checks to see if it's legitimate. The county clerk’s system relies mainly on notaries verifying identities. In an extensive investigation, WFAA found that there are gaping holes in this process.
To commit this fraud, a scammer needs to find a willing notary, be a notary themselves, or create a fake notary. County officials are aware of how easy this scam is to carry out, so they’re both changing the notary verification procedures as well as educating the public on the red flags associated with this type of crime.
Most Common Real Estate Scams
As a real estate professional, you are responsible for protecting your clients’ interests and should be aware of common real estate scams and schemes. Here are the five most common real estate scams to keep an eye out for:
1. Escrow wire fraud: Scammers claiming to work with your client’s title or escrow company will reach out to them with instructions on where to wire their escrow funds. Fraudsters will go to great lengths to enact this ruse, even setting up fake websites that appear similar to the title or lending company your client is working with, making their request seem like the real deal.
2. Loan flipping: Loan flipping occurs when a predatory lender persuades a homeowner to refinance their mortgage repeatedly, often borrowing more money each time.
3. Foreclosure relief: Homeowners who fall on hard times and get behind on their mortgage payments can become desperate to save their homes. Scammers will swoop in with offers of foreclosure relief to capitalize on homeowners’ vulnerability. In reality, they’re just collecting a large upfront fee with no real intentions of helping the homeowner.
4. Rental scams: Scammers post fake property rental ads on Craigslist or social media using photos from other listings to lure in unsuspecting renters. Fraudsters, who have no connection to the property or its owner, will ask for an upfront payment to let your clients see the property (or hold the money as a “deposit”).
5. Moving scams: Your client has found a new place to call home, and now they have to find a way to move all of their belongings. They might fill out a form for a moving company estimate, outlining all their items, and receive an estimate for $4,000 to ship them from their current home to their new one. Once this is done, the “company” will raise the estimate and corner your client into paying more to give their belongings back.