Real estate investor Orin Clybourn had amassed a small fortune with a string of real estate transactions that followed the same formula: Longtime property owners would give their homes to sons or daughters who transferred the deeds to Clybourn who sold them to developers for a profit.
The only problem? The owners’ signatures on the transfers were forged, and the sons and daughters were nonexistent. Clybourn’s case is just one example of an epidemic of property theft occurring across Philadelphia.
The sophisticated schemes, which sometimes include filing “quiet title” suits that make it easier to sell properties with muddled chains of title, all involve forged deeds. Most are in up-and-coming neighborhoods where demand is high and fraudsters can get in and get out fast, selling for a profit to unsuspecting buyers.
Three foreign nationals recently fled the country with profits in hand after stealing and selling no less than 21 properties across Philadelphia. One buyer had already spent $28,000 rehabbing the home before learning it was stolen.
What does the Pennsylvania Land Title Association think about the issue?
Marc Shaw recently sat down with 3 of the newly elected board members of the PLTA to discuss many items, including Stolen Deeds.
The Anatomy of Property Theft
The thieves scour public records to find properties that have been held by the same owner for decades and those that are behind in taxes or mortgage payments, as both are signs that the owner may be dead or have abandoned the home.
A few dollars are spent on a blank deed, and a sale is fabricated, often with the aid of a compliant notary and sometimes with a forged notarial seal, and ownership is transferred to the thief.
Why Can’t the City Stop Real Estate Fraud?
Pennsylvania law states that the Records Department must record all deed and mortgage documents — even if the information they hold later proves false — so long as they are filled out correctly and completely. Fraudulent documents may go undetected until a transaction against the deed or mortgage begins.
Lacking the staff to investigate every complaint, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office won’t investigate allegations of property theft that involve only one property. The previous D.A. only stepped in if the crook had stolen at least 20 homes…
What to Do If You Are a Victim of a Forged Deed
If you believe you are the victim of a forged deed, contact the police Major Crimes Economic Crime Division of the Police Department at 215 686 3396 or call 911.
You can also contact a civil attorney to restore title to your property by filing a Motion to Quiet Title in the Court of Common Pleas. The Philadelphia Bar Association’s “LRIS” service, which can be reached at 215 238 6333, has a list of real estate attorneys who specialize in these matters.