DON’T BE A VICTIM

January 24, 2019 at 4:30 am

New Yorkers are falling victim to predatory deed theft. We’ll show you how they’re fighting back and how you can avoid a similar fate.

Aired on January 23, 2019. 

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>> GOOD EVENING.
WELCOME TO "METROFOCUS."
I'M RAFAEL PI ROMAN.
THEFT IN NEW YORK CITY IS
RAMPANT.
THAT'S ACCORDING TO THE RECENT
GRAND JURY REPORT RELEASED BY
MANHATTAN DIRECT ATTORNEY CY
VANCE WHICH FOUND THAT THE VALUE
OF REAL ESTATE HAS SURGED SO HAS
THE INCIDENTS OF VULNERABLE NEW
YORKERS BEING SCAMMED.
THEY CONVINCE THE VICTIMS TO
SIGN OVER THE DEED TO THEIR HOME
AND IN SOME CASES, THEY SIMPLY
FORGE THE NAME OF RECENTLY
DECEASED HOMEOWNERS TO TAKE THE
PROPERTY.
THEREBY STEALING WEALTH THAT HAS
BEEN ACCUMULATED FOR GENERATIONS
OFTEN WITH LITTLE OR NO
RECOURSE.
JOINING US TO TALK ABOUT THIS
URGENT PROBLEM AND WHAT IF
ANYTHING CAN BE DONE ABOUT IT IS
CHRISTY PEELE FROM THE CENTER
FOR NYC NEIGHBORHOODS THAT
PROMOTES AND PROTECTS AFFORDABLE
HOME OWNERSHIP.
>> THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME AND
THANK YOU FOR FOCUSING ON THIS
IMPORTANT ISSUE.
>> YEAH.
IT'S IMPORTANT.
FIRST OF ALL, WHO IS BEING
TARGETED IN THIS HEINOUS CRIME?
>> WELL, THROUGHOUT NEW YORK
CITY'S NEIGHBORHOODS, THERE ARE
PROBABLY AROUND 300,000 PROPERTY
OWNERS WHO WE WOULD CONSIDER OF
MODEST MEANS.
THE WORKING CLASS FAMILIES WHO
HAVE BEEN ABLE TO BUY AND KEEP
PROPERTIES FOR, YOU KNOW, MANY
DECADES AND GENERATIONS.
AND AT TIMES, YOU KNOW, THE
OWNERS ARE VULNERABLE.
FINANCIALLY OR FOR OTHER REASONS
AND PEOPLE, SCAMMERS, YOU KNOW,
FRAUDSTERS, THERE ARE A LOT OF
PREDATORY ACTORS WHO ARE OUT
THERE TRYING TO TAKE PROPERTIES
FROM UNSUSPECTING NEW YORK CITY
OWNERS.
>> WHAT IS BEING DONE?
HOW ARE THEY TAKING THESE
PROPERTIES FROM THESE VULNERABLE
NEW YORKERS?
>> SO THERE ARE A COUPLE OF WAYS
IT CAN HAPPEN.
WHERE WE HAVE BEEN WORKING TO
PREVENT FORECLOSURES SINCE 2008,
A LOT OF TIMES THE HOMEOWNER
WILL BE STRUGGLING ON A MORTGAGE
OR A PROPERTY TAX AND WHERE THE
PROPERTY VALUES HAVE BEEN
INCREASING THERE ARE SCAMMERS
OUT THERE THAT ARE, YOU KNOW,
WALKING THE BLOCK, CALLING
PEOPLE DAILY, PUTTING FLYERS IN
THEIR MAILBOXES TO TRY AND GET
THEM TO EITHER PAY THEM FOR
HELP, TO GET THEIR MORTGAGE
CURRENT, OR TO YOUNG SELL THEIR
PROPERTY FOR BELOW MARKET VALUE.
THEY'RE TRYING TO TAKE ADVANTAGE
OF UNSUSPECTING PROPERTY OWNERS
SOME WHO MIGHT BE IN FINANCIAL
DIFFICULTIES.
SO FOR EXAMPLE WITH THE MORTGAGE
SCAM ISSUE, IF YOU'RE TRYING TO
KEEP YOUR HOME FROM FALLING IN
TO FORECLOSURE, SOMEBODY MIGHT
SAY, PAY ME SOME MONEY.
I'LL SAVE YOUR HOME FOR YOUR.
BY THE WAY, I MEAN, THAT'S
SOMETHING YOU NEVER SHOULD
BELIEVE.
IF SOMEONE SAYS PAY ME I'LL SAVE
YOUR HOME, THAT'S A RED FLAG.
IT'S ILLEGAL FOR SOMEBODY TO
TAKE MONEY UNLESS THEY'RE AN
ATTORNEY, AND WE HAVE SEEN CASES
THAT PEOPLE HAVE BEEN GIVEN A
RAFT OF PAPER AND SAID SIGN
HERE, SIGN HERE.
>> YOU HAVE SEEN THE CASES?
>> AND SOMEBODY THINKS THEY'RE
GETTING HELP TO SIGN THEIR HOME
WHEN THEY'RE SIGNING OVER THE
DEED TO FRAUDSTERS.
THEN ONCE THEY HAVE THAT
DOCUMENT SAYING THEY OWN THE
PROPERTY, THEY'LL SELL IT.
RENT IT OUT.
DO ALL SORTS OF THINGS AND, YOU
KNOW, IT'S VERY DIFFICULT TO GET
THE PROPERTY BACK.
THE NEW THING THAT'S BEEN
HIGHLIGHTED IN THE GRAND JURY
REPORT TALKS ABOUT FRAUDULENT
DOCUMENTS BEING RECORDED WITH
THE CITY OF NEW YORK.
AND OFTEN FOR PROPERTIES WHERE
THE PRIMARY OWNER SEEMS TO
EITHER HAVE PASSED AWAY OR
BEEN -- THE FRAUDSTERS HAVE
IDENTIFIED IT AS A PROPERTY AS
THERE'S NOBODY AT HOME SO TO
SPEAK.
AND THEY'LL --
>> FAKE THE SIGNATURE?
>> SO THEY'LL CREATE A FORGED
DOCUMENT AND OFTEN THEY USE A
NOTARY TO DO SO.
SO THEY'LL FORGE THE SIGNATURE
OF THE REAL PROPERTY OWNER AND
RECORD IT WITH THE CITY AND
BASED ON THAT DOCUMENT THEN
THEY'LL GO OUT AND AGAIN EITHER
SELL IT TO SOMEBODY ELSE OR, YOU
KNOW, TAKE OUT FINANCING.
YOU KNOW, DO WHAT THEY WILL.
AGAIN, AT THAT POINT IT'S
REALLY, REALLY HARD.
>> WE'LL GET TO THAT, WHAT CAN
BE DONE IN A SECOND.
BUT IN OTHER STATES WHERE PEOPLE
ARE BEING SCAMMED OUT OF THEIR
HOMES IT HAPPENS THAT THE CITY
EMPLOYEES WITH INSIDE
INFORMATION ARE COLLABORATING
WITH THE FRAUDSTERS.
GIVING THEM POTENTIAL TARGETS.
FOR EXAMPLE, HOMEOWNERS THAT ARE
REALLY IN SERIOUS ARREARS OF
PROPERTY TAXES.
IS THERE ANY EVIDENCE THAT
THAT'S HAPPENING HERE?
>> NOT THAT WE HAVE SEEN.
AND NEW YORK IT'S REALLY
INTERESTING BECAUSE THE SHERIFF
ACTUALLY WORKS OUT OF THE
DEPARTMENT OF FINANCE AND SO,
YOU KNOW, WE HAVEN'T HEARD OF
ANY INSTANCES WHERE THERE'S
SOMEBODY AT THE PROPERTY
RECORDING OFFICE THAT'S DOING
THIS.
BUT THE DEPARTMENT OF FINANCE
HAS PUT SOMETHING IN PLACE
THEY'LL ALERT YOU BY PHONE OR
E-MAIL OR TEXT IF SOMEBODY IS
FILING AGAINST YOUR PROPERTY.
BUT AT THIS POINT IT'S KIND OF
TOO LATE.
IF THE CITY ACCEPTS THAT
FRAUDULENT DOCUMENT.
>> SO THE DAs RECORD CALLS THIS
A GROWING EPIDEMIC.
>> YEAH.
>> HOW LONG HAS IT BEEN GOING ON
AND WHY DID IT BECOME OR WHEN
DID IT BECOME AN EPIDEMIC?
>> WE HAVE SEEN THE ISSUES OF
DEED THEFT AND PROPERTY THEFT
GOING BACK TO THE FIRST PROPERTY
BUBBLE IN THE EARLY 2000s.
A LOT OF FRAUDS USING THE STRAW
BUYERS.
MORE ON THE PURCHASE SIDE,
LEADING UP TO THE MORTGAGE
CRISIS.
SO I JUST WOULD SAY THAT WE HAVE
SEEN THIS KIND OF SCUMMY
ACTIVITY IN NEW YORK CITY REAL
ESTATE, BUT I THINK WHAT'S
HAPPENING NOW IS THAT THE
PROPERTY VALUES HAVE REALLY
INCREASED.
THE AGE OF THE NEW YORK CITY
HOMEOWNER IS GOING UP, SO WE'RE
ALL AGING.
AS A POPULATION AND A LOT OF
FOLKS ARE AGING IN PLACE.
SO THERE ARE MORE OLDER
HOMEOWNERS WHO MAY BE MORE
VULNERABLE.
>> MORE TARGETS.
SO THE GRAND JURY REPORT HAS
FIRM RECOMMENDATIONS.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THOSE
RECOMMENDATIONS?
>> ON THE RECOMMENDATIONS REALLY
FOCUS ON PREVENTION, DETECTING.
AND RESTORING PROPERTIES AS WELL
AS EASING PROSECUTION.
SO THE PREVENTION WHICH IS A
REALLY HELPFUL FOCUS OF THE
REPORT TALKS ABOUT CREATING
RESOURCES FOR GROUPS LIKE THE
CENTER AND OUR NETWORK PARTNERS
TO COUNCIL AND DO OUTREACH TO
HOMEOWNERS TO MAKE SURE THEY
KNOW THIS IS AN ISSUE.
AS WITH A LOT OF ISSUES AROUND
HOME OWNERSHIP, EDUCATION UP
FRONT IS SO IMPORTANT.
YOU KNOW, COMMUNITY OUTREACH WAS
A PRIMARY RECOMMENDATION AND
OBVIOUSLY WE SUPPORT THAT.
IN THIS CASE, AN OUNCE OF
PREVENTION REALLY DOES PAY OFF
BECAUSE IT'S RELATIVELY CHEAP TO
EDUCATE THE PUBLIC.
IT'S MUCH MORE EXPENSIVE TO TRY
AND GET A PROPERTY BACK.
>> BUT ALL THESE THINGS PREVENT
DEFRAUDING.
>> RIGHT.
>> WHAT HAPPENS TO SOMEBODY WHO
IS ALREADY DEFRAUDED?
DO THEY HAVE ANY WAY TO GET
THEIR PROPERTY BACK?
>> RIGHT NOW, YOU -- YOU KNOW,
SOMEBODY WHO SUSPECTS THEY'RE A
VICTIM OF THIS SHOULD REACH OUT
TO THE CENTER.
>> YOUR CENTER.
>> YEAH.
CALL THE HOMEOWNER HELP NY.COM.
WE HAVE TIPS, WE HAVE PLACES
THAT YOU CAN GO AND FILE A
COMPLAINT.
YOU SHOULD REACH OUT TO YOUR
COUNTY D.A.
YOU SHOULD REACH OUT TO THE
ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE.
AND SO THERE'S -- THERE HAVE
BEEN SUCCESSFUL PROSECUTIONS TO
PUT PEOPLE BEHIND BARS AND GET
PROPERTIES BACK.
WHAT THE GRAND JURY REPORT
RECOMMENDS IS THAT THOSE -- THE
TOOLS THAT THE PROSECUTORS HAVE
BE STRENGTHENED SO THAT THEY CAN
GO AFTER PEOPLE AND PUT THEM
BEHIND BARS AND MAKE IT A MORE
SERIOUS FELONY TO RECORD THE
FALSE DOCUMENTS.
RIGHT NOW, YOU KNOW, REACHING
OUT FOR LEGAL ASSISTANCE IS
REALLY IMPORTANT.
THERE IS FREE LEGAL HELP
AVAILABLE RIGHT NOW.
A LOT OF THE FUNDING IS AT RISK
AT THE STATE LEVEL RIGHT NOW, SO
WE'RE PUSHING REALLY HARD THE
GET FUNDING FOR HOMEOWNER
SERVICES PUT IN THE STATE
BUDGET.
BUT WE HAVE SOME OF THE BEST
LEGAL SERVICES PROVIDERS IN THE
COUNTRY IN NEW YORK CITY WHO CAN
HELP FOLKS TRY AND GET PROPERTY
BACK.
BUT IT'S REALLY DIFFICULT.
>> YEAH.
WELL, CHRISTY, THIS IS A VERY
IMPORTANT ISSUE.
THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR JOINING
US.
AND FOR TALKING ABOUT IT.
>> A PLEASURE.
THANKS FOR FOCUSING ON IT.

Mutual of America PSEG

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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