District attorney aims to stop real estate scams with new notification program

A new program launched by Alameda County District Attorney Pamela Price aims to curtail real estate fraud by catching and reversing illegal home transfers. 

When any Alameda County home or other property is recorded as changing hands, the DA’s office will now automatically mail a letter to the person who’s been paying its property tax bill to make sure they’re aware of the transfer. The letter, written in English, Spanish, and Chinese, will include a portion of the deed document that sealed the deal. 

If the recipient sees the notice and thinks there’s something suspicious about the change in ownership, they’re advised to call the DA’s office.

“The goal of this program is to protect the most valuable asset a person in Alameda County can have, and that’s their home,” said District Attorney Pamela Price in a press release. “All too often, white-collar thieves target the equity earned by seniors in our community who purchased their homes many years ago.”

Just last week, the office assisted police on a case where a handyman cozied up to an older homeowner with memory loss and convinced her to transfer over the title of both her home and an undeveloped property that had been in her family for years, Deputy DA Ken McCormick told The Oaklandside. In other instances, scammers forge the signature of the homeowner on documents. 

Sometimes the unscrupulous transfer will fall under the radar until it’s too late.

“A phony grant deed could be filed against someone’s house and nobody’s going to notice that for five, six years, until Grandma dies and it goes to probate,” McCormick said. “The targets more often than not are older people, because they have equity.”

He said the DA will investigate and prosecute cases unearthed by the new notification system. A recent law allows a judge to order the home transfer to be voided if it’s found to be fraudulent, he said.

Real estate transaction fraud is often committed by someone who’s earned the trust of the homeowner, including children and other relatives, McCormick said. On the other hand, in some cases when an older homeowner has been conserved—meaning a judge has found they are no longer mentally competent to make big decisions—a relative who lives away from the area may be the person paying the property taxes. In that case, they would receive the notification letter if the owner signs over the title, and could look into any fishy circumstances they’d otherwise be unaware of.

The program is budgeted for two years, the office said. It’s unclear how many perpetrators are getting away with illegal transfers in Alameda County, but McCormick hopes the program will bring more cases to light.

“We don’t know what we don’t know,” he said.

The DA’s office offers tips online for not falling prey to real estate scams, including avoiding doing business with strangers, only completing deals at the office of a legitimate business, and doing internet research on a company you’re considering working with, particularly before providing personal information.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” the site says.

This article was originally published by a oaklandside.org . Read the Original article here. .