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Cut, Paste, Release!
by Robert Franco | 2008/06/30 |

I don't think anyone should be too surprised, but there is a new scam hitting Ohio counties, and probably other states as well, that is causing major headaches for lenders and title companies.  Forged mortgage releases are getting filed! What can you do to protect yourself?

Source of Title Blog ::

An email dated June 25, 2008 was sent to all of the county recorders in Ohio alerting them of the scam.

Someone has been scanning MERS satisfactions and then taking the MERS officers signatures and cutting and pasting them to satisfactions for mortgages that are not paid.

With the availability of electronic images online, this is probably much easier to do than it once was.  An article previously published on News For Public Officials, by Janice Forster, hypothesized that this may have been the tactic used in a "massive identity fraud scheme."

Everything from death certificates to mortgages, marriage records, deeds, wills, and more are available online in North Carolina and most other states, and all for the taking. Full document images that can be altered with cut and paste options on any computer.

You don't have to be a computer geek to alter electronic images anymore.  Many computers come with everything you need right out of the box.  With a little practice and good quality printer it can be difficult to tell the original from a fake. 

MERS has a Web site where you can verify release.  Mortgages that are paid off, or otherwise terminated, will show as "inactive."  A thorough title search may require more than just a search of the "public records" to be sure that the information obtained from the courthouse is legitimate.  Though this particular scam was discovered as it pertains to MERS mortgages, it could just as easily be affecting other mortgagees as well.  There really is no way to be certain. 

Abstractors and title agents will need to be even more diligent.  Perhaps more needs to be done to verify with the mortgagee that releases are genuine.  Title insurance will protect homeowners and mortgagees from fraud, but the title industry is already suffering larger losses from fraud and we all need to do our part to minimize the effects of these types of scams.

It is a sad day when you can no longer trust the documents recorded at the courthouse.

Robert A. Franco


Categories: Abstractors, Crime, Fraudulent Transfers, Small Agents, Title Problems

565 words | 5536 views | 5 comments | log in or register to post a comment

Naked Releases

A fraud expert referred to these as naked releases.  Warned everyone to look for two things.  1) a release filed in the last 6 months (I say year); and 2) A release filed without a new mortgage of similar value being recorded.  Our searchers now look for both. 

Dave Wirsching


by Dave Wirsching | 2008/06/30 | log in or register to post a reply

Lax of minimum requirements Re: original signatures?

Is this just a case of recording persons that do not verify that what is being recorded is in fact an original signature on the documents? I know when I record anything if it looks like it might not be an original- it gets rejected right away- they don't even bother to negotiate- as well as the notary signature- all of these are required to be original.
I understand that the electronic recordings will have an exception, but the clerk's have to be verifying the source of those by a secure transmittal, hopefully!

And Dave: What does it do to look for a release of a non-existent mortgage or loan- a release of something that does not match the ones on record is not a release, at least from where we do cases- now, we do look at the complete document( the four corners) and determine if it is in fact the same mortgage/trust , just in case of any typo's, but if it doesn't match- it doesn't qualify.

Thanks, Steve Meinecke

by STEVE MEINECKE | 2008/07/02 | log in or register to post a reply

Enhancing a succesful scam.

This seems like an enhancement  to the clip and paste fraud that started in Florida  and spread across the country a couple of years ago. In those cases signatures of homeowners (some long dead) were clipped from online records and pasted onto phony deeds or mortgages.  The signatures were authenticated by notary seals copied  from more recent online documents. Once the bogus documents were filed, the scammers quickly sold the stolen properties to developers or mortgaged the properties to the hilt.

Texas homeowners James and Paula Cook learned the hard way just how easily a criminal could take their home using online county records in 2006. When the couple returned from a trip they found their locks had been changed by a "new owner" who bought their $300,000 home from a criminal for $10,000 down. Police reports indicate the scammer may have used the same method used in Florida to clip Ms. Cook's maiden signature and a notary seal from Denton County's subscription Web site. The site also displays Paula's driver's license number so the criminal could have produced a forged license to dupe an unwary Notary into notarizing the bogus deed.

I wonder if clip and paste scammers in Ohio may have decided to up their profits by releasing liens before mortgaging or selling their stolen properties?

by David Bloys | 2008/07/02 | log in or register to post a reply

Don't discount technology...

It can be very hard, if not virtually impossible, to distinguish a phony signature from a real one with the availability of good software and high-quality laser printers.  Today, anyone with a decent computer and the right software can edit video and add special effects that Hollywood couldn't do not too long ago.  I don't think a simple signature would even be challenge.

To give you an example, I scanned all of my employees signatures a few years ago and cleaned them up in Photoshop.  I added a little color to make them festive - like they signed with colored pens.  Then I printed all of our Christmas cards and nobody could tell that they weren't "original" signatures.  Even my employees were amazed.

I'm sure that if the "crooks" scanned signatures from valid releases and added a blue tint when they pasted it on a forged release most clerks would see the blue signature and not even question them. Once they are imaged with the rest of the county docs nobody would be able to tell the difference.

That is what is so scary these days... you really have idea what is real and what is fake. 

by Robert Franco | 2008/07/02 | log in or register to post a reply

Also a problem for appraisers and engineers

This clip paste and file has also created a problem for appraisers. When scammers are unable to find a crooked appraiser to boost the value of a property, they just steal the appraisers signature and paste it onto an appraisal that is more to their liking. The appraisers call it "appraiser identity theft"

I was visiting with a friend Saturday  whose husband is an engineer. He recently  had his signature and seal copied and pasted onto a bogus document. He is very concerned about his reputation.

by David Bloys | 2008/07/02 | log in or register to post a reply
Source of Title Blog

Robert A. FrancoThe focus of this blog will be on sharing my thoughts and concerns related to the small title agents and abstractors. The industry has changed dramatically over the past ten years and I believe that we are just seeing the beginning. As the evolution continues, what will become of the many small independent title professionals who have long been the cornerstone of the industry?

Robert A. Franco



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