How he stole homes

Excerpted from USAToday:

After police arrested Barber in August 2004, several witnesses told them Barber had blank real estate deeds in the back of his gold Infiniti Q45 luxury car, Marshall says. Deed fraud is almost impossible to detect before the damage is done.

“The whole system of (real estate) recording is set up assuming the society is sheep and there are no wolves,” Barber says.

He sketches a series of scenarios in which he could steal your home and borrow money against it, and you wouldn’t know until his lender tried to foreclose on your house.

Barber could, for example, find an older neighborhood where most residents are retired and their homes paid off. He could forge a homeowner’s signature, he says, and deed the house to himself. He could buy a notary’s stamp for about $35 at an office supply store, and file the fake deed at the county recorder’s office for $21.

Then, with the title to the property in his name, Barber could take out a mortgage against it. “If you could buy one house that way,” he says, “you could buy 20 a day.”

In fact, no county recorder’s office will verify the information on real estate documents, says Mark Monacelli, president of the Property Records Industry Association. The recorder’s job is to ensure that documents are filled out properly, signed and notarized.

“The system has always been vulnerable,” says Monacelli, who agrees that if anyone wanted to commit such fraud, it’s not hard.