Deed Theft: A Look into a Disturbing Trend and How New York State is Addressing the Problem
A growing concern in the real estate industry is known as “deed theft.” This occurs when a person loses ownership of their home by fraudulent means. This can happen in two different ways. One way occurs when a criminal records a forged deed transferring ownership to an LLC, which is done to hide the names of the criminals. The second occurs when a dishonest person approaches a homeowner behind in their debts or mortgage, with a promise to help them. What actually occurs is that among the many documents signed, the owner signs a deed, not realizing they are transferring ownership of their home.
Since 2014, more than 3500 complaints of deed theft have been received in New York City. Other than New York City, these types of scams have also been occurring in Nassau, Albany, Erie, Monroe, and Onondaga counties. Recent examples were reported by newspapers listing deed thefts in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Nassau County.
The simplest type of fraud is the recording of a deed that the homeowner never signed or requested. The deed will contain fake signatures and fraudulent notary stamps. Some counties in Florida have previously addressed this issue by setting up a system that alerts homeowners if a deed has been recorded. Nassau County on Long Island has now set up a similar system to alert a homeowner when a deed is filed. The only requirement is that the homeowner must register their name, address, and contact information.
Some clients have sent me unsolicited letters they have received from companies that allege they can help them avoid this type of fraud. Unlike the county services, they charge an annual fee. I do not find the programs to work well. The company promises to check the court records every few months and advise if anything is found. However, should actual fraud occur, the homeowner would not find out in a timely manner. The free registration offered by the county is a much better system since it quickly advises of deeds being recorded.
Fortunately, New York State is taking action to address this fraud, with Attorney General Letitia James and the New York legislature proposing a bill that would make “deed theft” a specific crime and also strengthen the civil statutes to help those who have been defrauded.
 Stefanos Chen, “He Admitted Stealing People’s Homes. He’s Charged With Doing It Again”, The New York Times
 New York State Attorney General, “Attorney General James Announces Arrests in New York City Deed Theft Ring” (last accessed 2023)
 Joan Gralla, “LI Man Posed as Deceased Woman’s Son in Scheme to Steal, Sell Her Home, DA Says”, Newsday
 Committee on Housing, Construction and Community, “Make Deed Theft a Crime, Say NY Democratic Lawmakers and Attorney General Letitia James” The New York State Senate
This article is intended as a general discussion of these issues only and is not to be considered legal advice or relied upon. For more information, please contact Jeffrey Blankstein who counsels clients on estate and retirement planning, individual taxation, real estate and litigation. Mr. Blankstein is admitted to practice law in New York. Attorney Advertising.