Bank of America accused a 67-year-old man of stealing the $4-million Preston Hollow mansion that once belonged to restaurateur Norman Brinker earlier this year. The bank says John Mann of the Glorious Church of God in Christ International Ministries filed fraudulent deeds with Dallas County.
In Texas, it is remarkably easy to steal houses, and it’s a crime that can affect people at any income level.
“When you talk about theft of real estate, there are so many ways to do it,” attorney Lauren Cadilac says. “You can steal real estate in so many unique and creative ways in Texas.”
That’s because deeds are filed on the strength of notarized signatures, and they’re filed with clerks who aren’t required to verify them. So all it really takes is a fraudulent signature.
Here are five ways to avoid becoming the victim of real estate fraud.
1. Sign up for alerts at pfa.fidlar.com/TXDallas. The Dallas County Clerk’s office will notify you if a real estate document is recorded with your name.
2. Look up your house on the Dallas Central Appraisal District website, dcad.org, periodically to make sure everything is in order. Cadilac suggests doing it when you change your HVAC system’s air filter.
3. Put your house in a trust. Hiring a lawyer to create a trust keeps your name off the public record associated with your house, which adds a layer of protection.
4. Make sure you know what you’re buying. “We had a case where two people bought the same piece of land off Craigslist,” Cadilac says. “We found out that the dude sold the same piece of land to five people in the same day.”
5. Make sure you know what you’re renting. Cadilac represented a woman who paid a $2,000 deposit and moved into a house after answering a Craigslist ad. The “broker” who leased it to her turned out to be a scammer with no connection to the house. The home’s owners evicted her, and she lost her $2,000.