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I'm Out Of The Office For One Day And Someone Steals The Empire State Building
by Robert Franco | 2008/12/03 |

Thank you to Robert Breakell and George Booth for posting the link to the story in the forums.  It really should be no surprise, but it is probably the biggest hoax in the city since George C. Parker sold the Brooklyn Bridge in the 19th century.  Parker allegedly sold the bridge twice a week for years. 

Apparently, in an effort to demonstrate how easy it is to file a fraudulent deed, the Daily News forged the documents necessary to "swipe the Empire State Building."  It only took them about 90 minutes to steal the New York landmark.  Unfortunately, they have just educated many crooks that will likely encourage more deed fraud.  And, the "loophole" they cite as the flaw that made it possible, shows a real lack of understanding of the way our industry works.

Source of Title Blog ::

The massive ripoff illustrates a gaping loophole in the city's system for recording deeds, mortgages and other transactions.

The loophole: The system - run by the office of the city register - doesn't require clerks to verify the information.

This isn't a loophole, this is how the system works and it is why filing forged documents is a crime.  This is like saying that shooting someone is a loophole in the homicide laws.  Its not a loophole - its illegal. 

So, this really begs the question, will someone at the Daily News be charged with deed fraud?  Obviously, they did this just to prove a point - they didn't really intend on "stealing" the Empire State Building.  But they did file forged documents and there should be consequences for it.  If you or I did this, "just to prove a point," we would certainly be facing criminal charges.

But, what is really missing is any explanation of just how the Daily News believes that the city register should be verifying the information.  Should all of the parties to real estate transfers be required to show up at the registrar's office and show ID?  That would be one crowded office.  That is the purpose of the acknowledgement - the notary verifies the identity of the parties. But, obviously, the notary's signature can be forged just as easily as any other on the documents.  Should the notary be required to show up in person and tell the clerk that they personally identified the individuals who signed?

Maybe we need a more secure system.  I suppose we could train notaries public to obtain fingerprints to place next to signatures.  Then, we could require the clerks to run them all through AFIS when the documents are recorded.  Of course, then we would all have to be fingerprinted and placed in the national database along side all of the criminals.

But, would that really work? Aside from the obvious time and expense that it would require, it would surely be simple enough to copy and paste a fingerprint with the technology available today.  Perhaps we need something even better.... DNA.  There are companies that can make special ink carrying your DNA; it is already being used by celebrities to ensure the authenticity of autographs.

At the National Sports Collectors Convention held recently in St. Louis, Harlan Werner, President of Sports Placement Service, unveiled the "first Sports DNA Pen." The pen is used to stop counterfeit autographs. Hair of a sports celebrity is gathered, then sent to a lab where "fragments of the player's DNA are isolated. It is then infused into ink to be used by a special pen." Each autograph will include the signers' actual DNA, and is stamped with a special thumb print with the date and other information.

How long would it take for the DNA test, before the documents could be recorded?  Surely, that won't delay the closing by more than a few weeks.  Just make sure you keep your DNA pen under lock and key... you wouldn't want that to get stolen.  And make sure you don't shed any hair where a criminal could find and order a DNA pen with your unique DNA pattern.  Gee... this is getting pretty complicated!

Certainly, this could be carried to any illogical extreme... but is that necessary?  We already have laws making forgery a crime.  We need to continue to prosecute perpetrators when it happens... and, I say we start with the Daily News.  They wanted a public example of how easy it is to commit deed fraud, so let's give the public an example of what happens when you do.

Obviously, there are going to be people who abuse the system to commit these crimes.  But, trying to prevent it - beyond making it illegal - would be an expensive lesson in futility.

Robert A. Franco


Categories: Fraudulent Transfers, Notaries Public, Public Officials, Public Records

1067 words | 6249 views | 2 comments | log in or register to post a comment

Finger prints on docs

I do believe that California has been using a finger print system for a few years now.  The Notary is required to use a special acknowledgment page that has a space for the finger print which then the Notary swears to have taken.  I am not sure exactly because it has been some time since I mailed away docs to CA but I do recall getting back two seperate pages with the notary signature and seal as well as the finger print and information.  

Next question:  Won't that cause some sort of problem with the recorders offices....sort of like SS#'s being recorded with mortgages?  Next thing you know there won't be any online records, which could be a good thing. 

by Clanci Nelson | 2008/12/04 | log in or register to post a reply

Stealing Property

Hi Robert,

I have been in this business for about 25 years and almost from day one I have been saying how easy it would be to commit fraud and sell a property I do not own. I am not going to go in to detail here but if I was a dishonest person I could have a deed for almost any property I wanted, signed and properly notarized and recorded in most states within a couple of hours. I have always believed that we do need more security in transactions. If it is a fingerprint scanner in the future then so be it. That does bring up alot of probate issues though. Luckily so far it has not been the huge issue it could be but thanks to this article it is now going to be looked at more closely by the wrong element than before. I believe they have done a disservice to the real estate community. It would have been much more beneficial for them to send a letter to the right person in government. Although having said that and having tried to get the government to act in cases of fraud or illegal practices here in Florida I am astounded by the lack of caring and the lack of knowledge by those supposedly in charge of these issues.

by John Flaherty | 2008/12/08 | 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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