Attorney General James Launches Protect Our Homes Initiative To Combat Deed Theft
Volunteers Go Door-To-Door to Raise Awareness About Homeowner Scams
AG James Announces Formation of Interagency Law
Enforcement Taskforce to Respond to Deed Theft Concerns
BROOKLYN – New York Attorney General Letitia James today launched the “Protect Our Homes” initiative with a day of action to inform homeowners in Brooklyn about deed theft and other housing-related scams. Today’s efforts are the first step in a campaign of coordinated prevention and enforcement actions to combat deed theft in New York City. In addition, Attorney General James announced the formation of an interagency taskforce to focus on deed theft and other housing fraud issues.
“Homeownership is the cornerstone of every community, but for decades, long-time homeowners in rapidly gentrifying areas have been the prime targets of schemes to steal their homes,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “Deed theft is a heartless crime foisted on people who worked all their lives to achieve a vital piece of the American Dream, only to have that dream become a nightmare. My office is committed to working with our law enforcement and community partners to use a combination of education and enforcement action to help our neighbors protect their homes.”
Deed theft has become a common tool of career criminals and unscrupulous real estate developers to illegally obtain real estate so they can sell it at a huge profit in high-demand housing markets like Brooklyn. This illegal scheme especially affects people of color, the elderly, and other vulnerable homeowners who are being scammed into signing over the deeds to their homes to con artists. Deed theft usually happens when scammers forge deeds to look like they purchased the home, or when homeowners are tricked into signing their homes over to a scammer without knowing what they are doing. Scammers then seek to evict the homeowner and sell the house to a third party at a significant profit.
As a kick-off to today’s initiative, Attorney General James partnered with the Homeowners Protection Program (HOPP), AARP NY, elected officials, and others to send over one hundred volunteers in the neighborhoods of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Prospect Lefferts Gardens, and Flatbush. Volunteers knocked on doors and left informational materials about what deed theft entails, how to spot it, and what to do if you think you’ve been a victim.
Attorney General James announced today that her office has created a dedicated complaint process for issues pertaining to deed theft. Those who believe they have experienced deed theft are encouraged to call the help line at 1-800-771-7755, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or fill out the online complaint form. Constituent services staff are trained to intake complaints, do initial research, and make referrals as needed.
The Office of the Attorney General is also developing a program to educate faith leaders, senior center workers, home health aides, and others who regularly engage with potential victims of deed theft so that they can spot the warning signs of deed theft, report these scams, and connect the homeowner to trusted service providers.
Additionally, Attorney General James announced the formation of an interagency taskforce that will include District Attorneys in New York City and New York City Sheriff's Office in an effort to coordinate the law enforcement response to deed theft and other issues pertaining to real estate fraud.
“Deed theft is considered by many the most harmful type of scam perpetrated against older New Yorkers of color,” said AARP New York State Director Beth Finkel. “We made significant progress last year when the Governor signed a new law to strengthen consumer protections for vulnerable homeowners. We are happy to join Attorney General James to launch this new initiative to educate potentially vulnerable homeowners about deed theft and ensure strong enforcement of this and other consumer protection laws, particularly here in Brooklyn, which unfortunately has become the geographic target of choice for scammers.
"IMPACCT Brooklyn is a proud and active member of the Homeowner protection program known as HOPP sponsored by the Office of the AG,” said IMPACCT Brooklyn Executive Director Bernell Grier. “For too many years homeowners, particularly homeowners in Central Brooklyn have been targeted by unscrupulous players. They appear as solution providers during a time when a homeowner is most in need of help. This campaign initiated By AG James is a heroic and most needed effort to inform homeowners and provide tools to combat these scam artist and protect perhaps the greatest asset our families possess our homes. Today starts the campaign to preserve our homes.”
New York City received around 3,000 complaints about deed theft between 2014-2019, 45 percent of which came from Brooklyn. The Office of the Attorney General receives 3-4 reports of deed theft a week, predominantly from Brooklyn, Queens, Northern Manhattan, and The Bronx. Since 2014, the office has been investigating these issues stemming from complaints from HOPP partners about the rising numbers of deed theft and mortgage rescue scams. On January 8th, 2019, Attorney General James announced the sentencing of Marilyn Sanchez who filed two fraudulent deeds and has active ongoing investigations into other complaints.
“Deed theft is an unconscionable evil striking the heart of Brooklyn depriving hard-working people of the single most important asset any American can hope to have: a home,” said Representative Yvette D. Clarke (NY-09). “I will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that all bad actors get the punishment they deserve and victims get the help they need to reclaim their homes, and am proud to be a part of this effort to help support our fellow Brooklynites to ensure that no one falls victim to deed theft again protecting the dream for us all.”
“I want to thank the Attorney General and my colleagues for making this a priority,” said NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams. “We have to stop the craven targeting of our elderly, those facing financial trouble and immigrants in communities of more color by unscrupulous individuals. If we have to walk door to door with our partners to make sure homeowners who have sacrificed and worked tirelessly to purchase their homes are protected from the predators who would steal their security and investment in the future, we will.”
“Deed theft is the ultimate bait-and-switch, and steals homes right out from under residents who have lived in these neighborhoods for decades. Brooklynites deserve better than lies and confusion from bad-acting landlords who want to make a quick buck at the expense of our seniors and long-time residents,” said NYC Comptroller Scott Stringer. “I commend Attorney General James, District Attorney Gonzalez, and all the organizers and canvassers for all their efforts to organize and protect Brooklynites from this deceitful practice.”
“I’d like to thank our Attorney General, Letitia James, for continuing to shine a spotlight on deed fraud and letting people know how they can protect themselves from fraudsters who may try to steal their homes,” said Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez. “As property values continue to dramatically rise, especially in Central Brooklyn, these thefts remain prevalent. Individuals who commit these crimes often target the vulnerable and elderly population, or steal the deeds to homes that appear abandoned. I will continue to aggressively prosecute these cases and I urge homeowners to protect themselves by registering with the Automated City Register Information System (ACRIS) so that they are automatically notified of changes made to documents associated with their property.”
“Deed fraud has become a crisis in recent years, and rapidly-gentrifying communities of color in Brooklyn are the epicenter,” said Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. “People who spent years building equity, raising families, and making a life for themselves in their homes are now being forced out by unscrupulous actors seeking to capitalize on growing demand in areas like Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, and other neighborhoods. We must arm homeowners with the tools to identify deed fraud so they don’t get locked in costly court battles, and crack down on known fraudsters using every legal tool in our arsenal. I thank Attorney General James, State Senator Myrie, and Assembly Member Richardson for standing with me on the front lines of this fight to protect homeowners.”
“The foreclosure crisis may seem over for Main Street, but its lingering effects are still felt in lower and moderate income areas and communities of color. Deed theft, deed fraud, and mortgage scams nibble at the edges of an already fraught housing situation for our community, making it more difficult for homeowners to hold on to their property,” said Council Member Robert E. Cornegy, Jr., Chair of Housing and Buildings Committee. “After years of work with colleagues, we have been able to enhance protections for homeowners through legislation and program funding, but it is clear there is still more work to be done. I will keep fighting to protect legacy residents, and will not allow my neighbors to be taken advantage of by unscrupulous actors.”
“Deed theft is a devastating crime with long-term impacts on communities across our city,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal. “I commend Attorney General James for her aggressive outreach to constituents about how they can keep themselves and their homes safe. In 2017, the City Council enacted my legislation which ensures that every homeowner can easily sign-up for alerts about any changes to their deed and new homeowners are automatically enrolled. I am proud to work with Attorney General James to protect New York City homeowners and our neighborhoods.”
“For over the last decade, African American communities across the country have been diminishing in numbers as a result of housing injustice and housing inequality,” said Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel. “Just looking at Black communities in major cities like New York, Detroit and Chicago; homeowners have been victims of deed theft and evictions at alarming rates. As a member of the New York City Council and Chair of the Public Housing Committee, I focus my work on ensuring my constituents are not displaced with the wave of gentrification, while benefiting from the values of the properties they’ve owned for generations. Housing that is safe, clean and affordable is a basic human right. Now, more than ever, we need to hold the executive branches of federal, state, and city municipalities accountable and demand that homeownership in Black communities, by the original families, are protected. Families are suffering and missing out on the “American Dream”. Because we are Americans that built this country, we should be protected from the predatory practices resulting from housing injustice and inequality.”