While scams are all too common in the world of New York City rentals, even if you actually own your place, you may not be safe. "Deed theft scams"—a house theft tactic that blew up during the recessions—are still alive and well, DNAinfo reported this week.
It works in a couple of different ways. Sometimes, scammers will approach homeowners who are in huge amounts of debt (they frequently target the elderly), offering to refinance the mortgage or pay off the home and duping them into signing paperwork that actually transfers the deed. It's also common for con artists to go right ahead and file phony deed transfer paperwork with the city under an alias, often for properties with elderly or absentee landlords. In the last year or so, there have been 755 complains of deed thefts to the sheriff's office, according to DNAinfo.
One Hamilton Heights family profiled in the story has dealt with repeated attempts to transfer the deed of their home — they kept getting notices about it in the mail — as well as sketchy calls to the NYPD claiming that the family who've lived in the place for generations are actually home invaders.
In response to the problem, the Finance Department flags deed transfers that have "defective information" — for instance, incorrect social security numbers — and sends them to the sheriff's investigators. It's all a rather unpleasant reminder not to sign paperwork without reading the fine print (or rather, having a lawyer read it), and that if you get any notice of transfer or other piece of iffy paperwork in the mail, report it and lawyer up immediately. Just because your home is yours, doesn't mean you don't sometimes have to fight for it.