Philadelphia has announced a crackdown on house thefts. Yes, you did read that right, and if you are a regular reader here, you already know what we are talking about.
But, that doesn’t mean it still doesn’t sound ridiculous.
We first reported on a story we called the Philly Fiasco in March of this year. Con artists and forgers figured a way to defeat the system in Philly, resulting in the theft of several dozen houses, and a huge black eye for the city.
The scandal even went international when some of the accused fled the country. One of them was even able to forge documents from a foreign country.
A Series of SafeGuards
Mayor Jim Kenney, in rolling out the measures at City Hall, called deed fraud a “terrible crime” that all too often victimizes the city’s poorest residents, who can least afford the up to $10,000 in legal costs to attempt to win back properties they owned or inherited.Philadelphia Inquirer
Who can’t agree with that?
But, the sad fact? The scandal has continued unabated since the last time we wrote about it. If anything, it has become more hectic, with reports that even house thieves are stealing homes from other house thieves.
And the worst part? (all parts of this are bad) Victims and their advocates are saying their calls are still being ignored by police, who seem overwhelmed by the crisis.
So How Do They Plan to Stop It?
Officials have started by rolling out a program they are calling Fraud Guard, which creates a database of home owners, alerting them whenever their name is used in a deed or mortgage.
It is a optional service that a homeowner, notary or real estate professionals can sign up for.
The system is also supposed to use advanced analytics to spot patterns in real estate purchases that may point to fraud. That claim is probably exaggerated. These types of systems do not have a great history, and to get right, will probably need years and years of updated programming.
Will Fraud Guard Help Philly Homeowners?
We hope so, but we have a hard time believing it. And we are going to list some reasons:
- It is an optional, you must sign up for it system.
- It is done online, and only contacts you through email.
- It does not have enough safe guards to ensure accuracy.
And thoughts on that:
- How will vulnerable homeowners know?
- Aren’t the people most likely to be affected by this the least able to participate?
- 20% of Philly households have no internet service.
- Dead people don’t check their email.
- A decent percentage of these homeowners were duped in person into signing documents. Is an email going to help at that point?
- How is possibly catching fraud after it happens going to fix this?
- How will they ensure accuracy. Let’s look at their disclaimer.
Neither Tyler Technologies nor the county that provides the information makes any representation or warranty regarding the accuracy, legality, or completeness of the services.
Assessing the accuracy and reliability of the materials is the responsibility of the user.
So, they won’t guarantee it is accurate, and it is up to the end user to assess the accuracy of the information.
That is not exactly a paragon of confidence.
Some words from the quote were omitted for brevity. They have zero impact as to the accuracy of the quote, and in no way change the context of it. You can see the full terms here.
Should Notaries Sign up for Fraud Guard?
That is something that you will need to decide for yourself.
Being an early signer might be good. It might be good for your records or accounting receiving an email that a document you signed has been filed.
Waiting a little might be an option. While we laud the intention of the program, it is the execution of those intentions that is most important.
And maybe, you don’t want to be on another service, or you don’t want to get more emails (don’t we all feel that way sometimes). Or you don’t believe in the execution of the system.
They are all valid reasons.
The only other point we’d make is how an investigation will play out. Will notaries come under investigation for no reason because they performed several legal signings for a party?
Of note here, it that rhetoric is going against property wholesalers. While these sales are completely legal, politicians are calling them unethical. So it is possible there are some future intentions there as well.
A Continued Black Eye for Philly
Public confidence in local government in Philadelphia has taken a hit over this fiasco. And by extension, so has our industry, even if most documents were forged.
This is a failure of government. Not of notaries.
All we can do is continue to do signings in a proper manner, keep meticulous records, and ensure all of our signings are done in a professional and legal manner.
In other words, do our jobs like we always do.