Register O’Donnell Promotes Consumer Notification Service

Taking note of publicity relating to “deed theft”, Norfolk Register of Deeds William P. O’Donnell today reminded Norfolk County homeowners about the Registry’s Consumer Notification Service. 

Deed theft can take different forms. The most common type of fraud preys on people who are in danger of losing their property, usually rental property, through foreclosure. The owners are told that they qualify for a “short sale” – a process where the foreclosing lender settles for less than the amount owed or the mortgage – and that if they sign the deed over to a third party, they can avoid the foreclosure.  The owner signs a deed over to the third-party scammer, not realizing they are still responsible for the debt, and the scammer, rather than negotiating the short sale, collects and keeps the rental payments until the lender eventually forecloses. Another form of deed theft preys on the elderly homeowner who, subject to undue influence often by a family member, signs over their property, not realizing what they are signing.

Less common is forgery, where a scammer fakes a homeowner’s signature on a deed and records it in the registry of deeds. A forged deed is not valid and conveys nothing. If a buyer or a lender rely on a forged deed and don’t do their due diligence on a property’s title, they are out of luck. They, not the legitimate property owner, will ultimately lose any money paid to the thief. Forgery is a felony in all fifty states, punishable by jail time and heavy fines. The court may also require restitution for damages caused by the forgery, such as the costs of clearing the title.

There are companies that now offer paid subscription services that will periodically monitor the public records and notify an owner if a deed has been recorded transferring the ownership of their property. It is not title insurance and usually will offer no additional services if a fraudulent transaction has taken place.

Commenting on the issue, Register O’Donnell stated, “Our mission at the Registry of Deeds is the safety and security of all property records. We recognize that there are unscrupulous individuals that may try to take advantage of the property rights of others. We have initiated a Consumer Notification Service at the Registry, a free service whereby subscribers sign up to be notified when any document is recorded under their name.  While I can’t speak to the paid subscription services, we have confidence in our “alert” or notification system.”

Information on “Consumer Notification” can be found on the Registry website,  under the heading, “Services”. The Registry Customer Service Department can assist anyone who would like to set up the notification for their property.

Register O’Donnell concluded, “I want to reiterate that our free notification service, like the paid services, does not protect against fraud but will at least alert an owner if a fraudulent deed has been recorded. Owners should be always be aware of what they are signing when it comes to any document that may affect the title to their real estate and should scrutinize any company that promises to alleviate debt if you sign over a deed to them.  In Massachusetts a deed should always be signed in front of a notary public. Massachusetts notaries are obligated to request identification from the party signing the deed.”

If you have any questions about the notification service, please contact our Customer Service Center at 781-461-6101, Monday through Friday between the hours of 8:30AM-4:30PM. Our trained staff are more than willing to answer any questions you may have.

The Norfolk County Registry of Deeds will be closed on Thursday, July 4th in celebration of Independence Day. We are open Friday, July 5th.

The Norfolk County Registry of Deeds is closed Today, July 4th in celebration of Independence Day. We are open Friday, July 5th.