Can someone file a lien against me and my property without my knowledge?

Yes. There are different types of liens that may be filed against property that you own and some of them don’t require your signature. Of course, the most obvious lien is a Deed of Trust that is recorded when you take out a loan using your property as collateral. A Deed of Trust would require your signature, but there are scammers out there who will forge signatures and file fraudulent Deeds and Deeds of Trust against property in order to attempt to steal the property from the rightful owner.

The types of liens that do not require your signature include Mechanics and Materialmans Liens (“M&M Liens) judgment liens and tax liens. M&M Liens are liens that any worker who does work on your property can record to help ensure they are paid for the work. They have a one year statute of limitations in Tennessee to file a lawsuit in order to enforce that lien and if they do not file the lawsuit within one year, the lien will lapse and will no longer be effective. However, if you are trying to sell the property or take out a loan against the property within that one year period, it is likely the lien would need to be paid off. Judgments are issued by a judge when someone sues you and wins the lawsuit against you. Those judgments can be recorded in the Register’s Office and will attach to any property you own in that county. Most of the time, if you are sued and served process, you show up in court and are aware that there is a judgment against you. But if you do not show up in court and the plaintiff gets a default judgment against you, you may not remember the judgment and may not realize that it can attach to your property. In Tennessee, judgment liens have a ten year statute of limitations from the date the judgment is entered. Tax liens are when a homeowner doesn’t pay property tax, state tax or federal income tax. Those liens can be recorded without your signature and the property tax liens will attach to the property on which the taxes are delinquent and will eventually lead to a tax sale if not paid. State and Federal Income tax liens can attach to any property that you own, similar to a judgment lien.

How can I find out when someone files a lien or fraudulent deed against my property?

If your property is in Davidson County, the Davidson County Register’s Office has started an alert system that will inform you anytime anyone files a lien or a deed in your name. The Register has said that seniors, immigrants and people with multiple or vacant properties are especially at risk for this type of fraudulent activity. There are situations where a lien, such as a tax lien, is legitimate but the homeowner simple forgot to pay the bill. This system will alert them so they can make sure it is paid before they lose the property. To sign up for the free service, you must go to the Davidson County Register’s website and register your name and an email address to send notifications. The website is http://www.davidsoncorecords.com.

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Why should a Buyer get a Title Policy?

There are many title issues that could cause problems for a buyer or may even cause the buyer to lose their home. Even a careful title search would not discover certain hidden risks and the buyer may not know about those problems until years later.

Here are a few issues that occur most frequently:

  1. Forged deeds, mortgages or releases of mortgages.
  2. Deed by a person who is mentally incompetent.
  3. Deed by a minor.
  4. Deed from a corporation given under a falsified resolution or not authorized by the corporate bylaws.
  5. Deed from a partnership that is not authorized by the partnership agreement.
  6. Deed from a trustee that is not allowed by the trust agreement.
  7. Deed challenged as being given under fraud, undue influence or duress.
  8. Deed following a non-judicial foreclosure, where the proper procedure was not followed.
  9. Deed executed under a falsified power of attorney.
  10. Deed executed under an expired power of attorney.
  11. Deed conveying property of a deceased person, not joined by all of the heirs.
  12. Conveyance by an heir or survivor of a joint estate, who murdered the decedent.

Some of these issues could be prevented by a diligent review of documents presented by the seller (for example: making sure a trust agreement allows the trustee to convey real estate), but many could not be discovered until someone comes forward at a later date making a claim to the property. A buyer should always consult with a reputable attorney or title company before purchasing real estate, to discuss the potential risks the buyer may encounter if they choose to not purchase a title policy.

Wire Fraud

How Home buyers can protect themselves from wire fraud

Unfortunately, there are increasing instances involving scammers tricking home buyers into wiring down payment funds to a fraudulent account.  The scammers are taking advantage of the chaotic nature of buying a home, selling another home, packing and moving, and relying on people acting quickly without verifying information.  They also know that a home purchase involves large sums of money and are spending vast amounts of time trying to make the scams look legitimate because of the amount of money they can make from their scam.  This post will explore how that scam normally works and ways that home buyers can prevent it from happening to them.

Hacking Email Accounts

Scammers will typically hack into email accounts of real estate attorneys, title companies or real estate agents and, without their knowledge, monitor their accounts by installing malware.  Once the scammers see that a closing date is approaching, they will use the compromised email account to send a legitimate looking email to the buyer.  The email will look like it is coming from the real estate attorney, title company or realtor and will have instructions about sending a wire transfer for the funds the buyer will need at closing.  Since the scammer has been monitoring the email accounts, the amount they are requesting is often the exact amount the buyer needs to bring to closing, but the wiring instructions are to an account belonging to the scammer and not to the title company to which the funds should actually be transferred.  The scammer’s bank account is typically an overseas account, out of the reach of U.S. law enforcement.  The email will usually also contain a phone number for the buyer to verify the instructions, however, that phone number will go directly to the scammer.  Sometimes, the scammer may also try to call the buyer to reassure them that the wire transfer request is legitimate.

What are the signs of a potential scam?

If you notice differences in the language used in the email requesting money and any previous emails, that is usually a good sign that you should pay close attention before acting on the email.  Since a lot of the scammers are not located in the U.S., the language used in their email may be a little different from the language used by the actual title company or real estate agent in prior emails.  If the email demands that the funds are sent immediately, especially if it is before the closing date, pay close attention and make it a point to verify any wiring instructions with a trusted source before sending any funds.  A title company or real estate agent should not threaten you if you do not send the wire, so if the email appears to be threatening, please pause and verify before responding.

How can I verify the correct wiring instructions?

The best way to verify wiring instructions is by calling someone involved in the transaction that you know and trust.  DO NOT CALL ANY PHONE NUMBERS LISTED IN THE EMAIL REQUESTING FUNDS UNLESS YOU HAVE VERIFIED THE PHONE NUMBER ELSEWHERE.  If you have already been talking to someone at the title company and feel comfortable with that person, especially if you recognize their voice, call that person directly to make sure you have the correct wiring instructions.  If you have had no contact with your title company, talk to your real estate agent and get the title company phone number from the agent (instead of relying on the emailed phone number).  Today, many title companies will not email the entire account number and will require you to call in order to get the full account number.  Sending funds by wire transfer is the best way to provide down payment funds for the purchase of a house, and in many situations is the only way to provide those funds, but please make sure you always verify the correct account number by talking to someone you know and trust.  If you have any questions about whether the account number is legitimate, let someone at your bank know before sending the funds AND let the title company know.  You could always stop by the title company office to physically pick up a copy of their wiring instructions.

What can I do if I have already sent funds to a fraudulent account?

If you have already sent the funds to an overseas fraudulent account, Immediately take the following actions:

  • Report the fraud to your bank and request a Fraud Wire Recall.
  • Report the fraud to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at IC3.gov.
  • Contact regional FBI and local policy.
  • Report the scam to the FTC.
  • Inform your escrow officer or settlement agent.

The FBI may be able to recover the funds if the fraud is reported fast enough, but if not, the money may be in the scammer’s overseas bank account and beyond the reach of U.S. law enforcement.

Have you or a client had any personal experiences with wire fraud? If so, please share your experience so we can give everyone real life examples so we can prevent this from happening as much as we can.