DON’T BE A VICTIM

October 10, 2019 at 4:45 am

New Yorkers’ homes are being robbed from under their feet as a result of predatory deed theft. Tonight, we’ll tell you what that means and how victims are fighting back.

Aired on October 9, 2019. 

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>>> THEFT IN NEW YORK CITY IS
RAMPANT ACCORDING TO A RECENT
GRAND JURY REPORT RELEASED BY
MANHATTAN DISTRICT ATTORNEY CY
VANCE WHICH FOUND THAT AS THE
VALUE OF REAL ESTATE IN THE CITY
HAS SURGED, SO HAS THE INCIDENTS
OF VULNERABLE NEW YORKERS BEING
SCAMMED OUT OF THEIR PROPERTY.
ACCORDING TO THE REPORT,
FRAUDSTERS OFTEN CONVINCE THEIR
VICTIMS TO ACTUALLY SIGN OVER
THE DEED TO THEIR HOME AND, IN
SOME CASES, THEY SIMPLY FORGE
THE NAME OF RECENTLY DECEASED
HOMEOWNERS TO TAKE POSSESSIONS
OF THEIR PROPERTY.
THEREBY STEALING WEALTH THAT HAD
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
KRISTI PEEL, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
OF THE CENTER FOR NYC
NEIGHBORHOODS, A NONPROFIT
ORGANIZATION THAT PROMOTES AND
PROTECTS AFFORDABLE
HOMEOWNERSHIP.
KRISTI, WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.
>> THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.
THANK YOU FOR FOCUSING ON THIS
REALLY IMPORTANT ISSUE.
>> IT'S AN IMPORTANT ISSUE.
>> YEAH.
>> 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, RIGHT.
THEY'RE WORKING CLASS FAMILIES
WHO HAVE BEEN ABLE TO BUY AND
KEEP PROPERTIES FOR MANY DECADES
AND GENERATIONS.
AND AT TIMES, THE OWNER, THE
VULNERABLE FINANCIALLY OR FOR
OTHER REASONS, AND PEOPLE,
SCAMMERS, YOU KNOW, FRAUDSTERS,
THEY'RE A LOT OF PREDATORY
ACTORS OUT THERE TO TRY AND TAKE
PROPERTIES FROM UNSUSPECTING NEW
YORK CITY OWNERS.
>> SO WHAT EXACTLY IS IT THAT'S
BEING DONE?
HOW ARE THEY TAKING THESE
PROPERTIES FROM THESE VULNERABLE
NEW YORKERS?
>> THERE ARE A COUPLE OF WAYS IT
CAN HAPPEN.
WHAT WE'VE SEEN AT THE CENTER
FOR NEW YORK CITY NEIGHBORHOODS
WHERE WE'VE BEEN WORKING TO
PREVENT FORECLOSURES SINCE 2008,
A LOT OF TIMES A HOMEOWNER WILL
BE STRUGGLING ON A MORTGAGE
PAYMENT OR PROPERTY TAX PAYMENT,
AND THE PUBLIC RECORDS WILL SHOW
THIS, RIGHT.
AND NEIGHBORHOODS 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 THE MORTGAGE
CURRENT, OR TO, YOU KNOW, SELL
THEM THEIR PROPERTY FOR A
BELOW-MARKET VALUE.
THEY'RE REALLY TRYING TO TAKE
ADVANTAGE OF, YOU KNOW,
VULNERABLE, TRUSTING,
UNSUSPECTING PROPERTY OWNERS,
SOME WHO MIGHT BE IN SOME
FINANCIAL DIFFICULTY.
SO FOR EXAMPLE, WITH THE
MORTGAGE SCAM ISSUE, IF YOU'RE
TRYING TO KEEP YOUR HOME FROM
FALLING INTO FORECLOSURE,
SOMEBODY MIGHT SAY PAY ME SOME
MONEY, I'LL SAVE YOUR HOME FOR
YOU.
AND BY THE WAY -- THAT'S
SOMETHING YOU SHOULD NEVER
BELIEVE, RIGHT.
IF SOMEBODY SAYS PAY ME AND I'LL
SAVE YOUR HOME, THAT'S A REALLY
BIG RED FLAG.
>> RIGHT.
>> AND IN FACT, IT'S ILLEGAL FOR
SOMEBODY TO TAKE MONEY AND
PROMISE YOU MORTGAGE
MODIFICATIONS UNLESS THEY'RE AN
ATTORNEY.
AND WE'VE SEEN CASES WHERE
PEOPLE HAVE BEEN GIVEN A RAFT OF
PAPERS AND SAID SIGN HERE, SIGN
HERE, SIGN HERE, OR SIGN THIS
BLANK PIECE OF PAPER --
>> YOU LITERALLY SEEN THESE
CASES --
>> YEAH.
SOMEBODY SIGNS THE PAPER
THINKING THEY'RE GETTING HELP TO
SAVE THEIR HOME WHEN THEY'RE
SIGNING OVER THEIR DEED TO THIS
FRAUDSTER.
AND THEN ONCE THEY HAVE THAT
DOCUMENT SAYING THEY OWN THE
PROPERTY, THEY'LL MORTGAGE IT,
SELL IT, YOU KNOW, THEY'LL 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
DEPARTMENT OWNER SEEMS TO HAVE
PASSED AWAY OR ABANDONED THE
PROPERTY, THE FRAUDSTERS
IDENTIFIED IT AS A PROPERTY
WHERE THERE'S NOBODY AT HOME, SO
TO SPEAK.
AND THEY'LL --
>> JUST FAKED THE SIGNATURE --
>> 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.
AND AGAIN, AT THAT POINTS, IT'S
REALLY, REALLY HARD.
>> WE'LL GET TO THAT WHAT CAN BE
DONE, IN OTHER STATES WHERE
PEOPLE ARE BEING SCAMMED OUT OF
THEIR HOMES --
>> YEP --
>> IT SOMETIMES HAPPENS THAT
CITY EMPLOYEES WITH INSIDE
INFORMATION ARE COLLABORATING
WITH THE FRAUDSTERS, GIVING THEM
POTENTIAL TARGETS, FROR EXAMPLE
HOMEOWNERS IN ARREARS IN
PROPERTY TAXES.
IS THERE EVIDENCE THAT'S
HAPPENING HERE?
>> NOT THAT WE'VE SEEN.
IN NEW YORK IT'S INTERESTING
BECAUSE THE SHERIFF ACTUALLY
WORKS OUT OF THE DEPARTMENT OF
FINANCE.
AND SO WE HAVEN'T HEARD OF ANY
INSTANCES WHERE THERE'S SOMEBODY
AT THE PROPERTY RECORDING OFFICE
THAT'S DOING THIS.
BUT IT'S -- THE DEPARTMENT OF
FINANCE HAS PUT SOMETHING INTO
PLACE WHERE THEY -- IF YOU SIGN
UP FOR A NOTIFICATION SERVICE,
THEY WILL ALERT YOU BY PHONE OR
E-MAIL OR TEXT IF SOMEBODY IS
FILING AN INSTRUMENT AGAINST
YOUR PROPERTY.
BUT AGAIN, AT THAT POINT, IT'S
KIND OF TOO LATE.
>> RIGHT.
>> IF THE CITY ACCEPTS THAT
FRAUDULENT DOCUMENT.
>> SO THE D.A.'S REPORT CALLS
THIS A GROWING EPIDEMIC.
>> YEAH.
>> HOW LONG HAS IT BEEN GOING
ON?
WHEN DID IT BECOME AN EPIDEMIC?
>> YEAH.
WE'VE SEEN ISSUES WITH DEED
THEFT AND PROPERTY THEFT GOING
BACK ON TO THE EARLY 2000s WHEN
THERE WAS THE FIRST PROPERTY
BUBBLE AND THERE WERE A LOT OF
FRAUDS USING STRAW BUYERS.
MORE ON THE PURCHASE SIDE
LEADING UP TO THE MORTGAGE
CRISIS.
SO I WOULD JUST SAY THAT WE'VE
ALWAYS 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 -- WE'RE ALL AGING.
THE POPULATION AND A LOT OF
FOLKS ARE AGING IS PLACE, SO
THERE ARE MORE OLDER HOMEOWNERS
WHO MAY BE MORE VULNERABLE.
>> A LOT OF TARGETS.
>> YEAH.
>> SO THE GRAND JURY REPORT HAS
SOME RECOMMENDATIONS.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE KEY
RECOMMENDATIONS?
>> THE RECOMMENDATIONS REALLY
FOCUS ON PREVENTION, DETECTING,
AND RESTORING PROPERTIES, AS
WELL AS EASING PROSECUTION.
THE PREVENTION COME IS A REALLY
HELPFUL FOCUS OF THE REPORT
TALKS ABOUT CREATING RESOURCES
FOR GROUPS LIKE THE CENTER AND
OUR NETWORK PARTNERS TO COUNSEL
AND DO OUTREACH TO HOMEOWNERS TO
MAKE SURE THEY KNOW THIS IS AN
ISSUE.
SO AS WITH A LOT OF ISSUES
AROUND HOMEOWNERSHIP, YOU KNOW,
EDUCATION UP FRONT IS SO
IMPORTANT.
SO THE -- THE 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, AND IT'S
MUCH MORE EXPENSIVE TO TRY TO
GET A PROPERTY BACK OR
PROSECUTE.
>> ALL THESE THINGS PREVENT THE
FRAUDSTER -- WHAT HAPPENS TO
SOMEBODY WHO'S ALREADY BEEN
DEFRAUDED?
DO THEY HAVE ANY -- ANY WAY TO
GET THEIR PROPERTY BACK?
>> RIGHT NOW, YOU -- SOMEBODY
WHO SUSPECTS THEY'RE A VICTIM OF
THIS SHOULD ABSOLUTELY REACH OUT
TO THE CENTER.
WE HAVE A WEBSITE CALLED
HOMEHOMEOWNER HELPNY.COM.
WE HAVE TIPS, WE HAVE PLACES
WHERE YOU CAN GO TO 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
BOTH PUT PEOPLE BEHIND BARS AND
GET PROPERTIES BACK.
WHAT THE -- THE GRAND JURY
REPORT RECOMMENDS IS THAT THOSE
-- THE TOOLS THAT THE
PROSECUTORS HAVE BE STRENGTHENED
SO THEY CAN GO AFTER PEOPLE AND
PUT THEM BEHIND BARS.
SO THEY MAKE IT A -- A MORE
SERIOUS FELONY TO RECORD THESE
FALSE DOCUMENTS.
>> YEAH.
>> SO RIGHT NOW, YOU KNOW,
REACHING OUT FOR LEGAL
ASSISTANCE IS REALLY IMPORTANT.
AND THERE IS FREE LEGAL HELP
AVAILABLE RIGHT NOW.
A LOT OF THE FUNDING FOR THAT IS
AT RISK AT THE STATE LEVEL RIGHT
NOW.
SO WE'RE PUSHING REALLY HARD TO
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 TO GET PROPERTY
BACK.
IT'S DIFFICULT.
>> THIS IS A VERY IMPORTANT
ISSUE.
THANKS VERY MUCH FOR JOINING US
AND TALKING ABOUT IT.
>> A PLEASURE.
THANKS FOR FOCUSING ON IT.

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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