Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Oklahoma City Cops Warn Against Scammers' Home Hijacking Racket Where They Pay Off Unpaid Real Estate Taxes, Then Use Forged Documents & Phony Eviction Notices To Boot Unwitting Homeowners

In Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, The Oklahoman reports:
  • If you think someone has paid off your unpaid taxes in the spirit of generosity, think again.

    The Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office has discovered a scam targeting homeowners with delinquent taxes in which scammers pay off other people's taxes and forge documents in an attempt to claim home ownership.

    The scheme starts with paying someone's unpaid property taxes, which by itself is not illegal, said Mark Opgrande, a spokesman for the sheriff's office

    However, the scammers will then use the payments as leverage when they contact homeowners and ask them to sign over their deed in an attempt to lay claim to the property.

    Despite what the scammers may say to convince their victims, anyone who pays another person's taxes does not have any claim on that person's property, Opgrande said.

    “They have no claim to your home just because they paid your past-due taxes,” Opgrande said.

    The Oklahoma County Clerk's Office has also discovered forged warranty deeds filed on homes by those responsible for the ruse. Some homeowners also have been disturbed to find eviction notices on their homes posted left by the same group of schemers.

    The end game is to fake ownership of a property in order to flip the house and make money, said Oklahoma County Treasurer Butch Freeman.

    "That's the only thing we can speculate," Freeman said.

    For those who receive what they believe to be a fake eviction notice, there are several telling points, Opgrande said.

    In cases of real eviction, homeowners would be notified well in advance of a paper notice stamped on their door, which would give them 48 hours to vacate the premises. The key difference is that a sheriff's deputy would be present upon eviction.

    The scam preys on those who are late on their taxes knowing that they are likely strapped for cash and unable to fight in court, Opgrande said. The sheriff’s office is working nine to ten cases at the moment, but expects to see more as they continue investigating, he said.

    The trend has only been reported in Oklahoma County and nowhere else in the state.

    Freeman said he has met with the sheriff’s investigative team and thinks the scammers will be caught quickly.

    “It’s absolutely a top-notch team,” Freeman said. “I would not want to be those people.”

    The scammers will most likely face charges of forgery or filing a false document, among possible other criminal charges that may come to light, Opgrande said.

    Anyone who is concerned about a fake eviction notice, forged home warranty or paid taxes may contact the Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office at 405-713-1000.