California’s challenging real estate market has made property fraud and other related schemes more prevalent. The Clerk-Recorder Department provides for the examining and recording of all documents dealing with establishing ownership of real property or land in Orange County. The department also records other documents, such as deeds of trust, reconveyances, liens and lien releases. These official transactions become part of the public record.
An important mission of this department is to balance the accessibility of these public records with safeguarding the confidentiality of those records to the maximum extent possible.
Types of Real Estate Fraud
According to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the following are some examples of real estate fraud:
Home improvement scams, where loans are obtained in the name of fictitious borrowers, or in the name of people unaware their identities are being used;
Equity fraud, which occurs when a person forges a property owner’s signature on a deed and equity in the property is stolen through loans taken against the targeted property;
Flipping, which involves buying property and reselling it at an inflated price based on fraudulent appraisal values;
Fraudulent loan origination, where unqualified buyers obtain funds for Federal Housing Authority (FHA) insured mortgages; and
Equity skimming, where an owner sells property to a bogus buyer at a price well above its actual value.
Warning Signs for Real Estate Fraud
Anyone can be vulnerable to real estate fraud and identity theft, however, the elderly and economically challenged traditionally have been targeted. Below are some common warning signs of real estate fraud:
You receive official documents indicating a transfer of property and you have no knowledge of the transaction;
You did not receive a property tax bill. This can be the first sign of fraud; and
You receive mortgage documents or payment books for loans for which you never applied.
Protect Yourself and Your Property
Monitor your credit periodically for unexplained activity. You can also check the Orange County Clerk-Recorder Department's online Grantor/Grantee Index to check for recorded transactions that may affect ownership of your property.
Reporting Real Estate Fraud
Immediately contact your local police department if:
You receive unexplained property documents or the information on the document(s) has been altered after you signed it;
You receive documents that you didn't sign or you believe the person signing the document was incompetent or deceased at the time of signing;
You didn’t sell, borrow or make a gift transfer of property yet receive notifications to that effect; or
You believe a fraud or misrepresentation has occurred in a transaction with which you were involved.
The Orange County District Attorney's Consumer Protection Unit prosecutes unfair business practices. The unit reviews and/or investigates complaints involving misrepresentation and deceptive practices in connection with the sale or advertisement of goods and services.