CHATHAM — At least once a week Cook County Recorder of Deeds Karen Yarbrough said fraudulent property documentation comes through her office.
Scammers will come in with phony paperwork to transfer the deed to a property into their name, thus preventing the real property owners from refinancing or selling the properties, or in extreme cases legally having homeowners evicted.
"This has been an ongoing problem for the past few years," Yarbrough said. "Those most affected are seniors, people of color and homeowners in high foreclosure areas."
To help educate property owners about these scams, Yarbrough said her office is teaming up with the nonprofit Greater Chatham Alliance to sponsor the free Property and Deed Fraud Awareness seminar Saturday. The event runs from 12:30-2:30 p.m. at Crerar Memorial Presbyterian Church, 8100 S. Calumet Ave.
Roosevelt Vonil, president of the alliance, said there are a lot of senior citizens living in Chatham, and the organization wanted to make sure residents are protected.
"Chatham has a large population of seniors who are usually more vulnerable to scam artists," Vonil said. "I think it is a shame that you have people out here willing to take advantage of homeowners at any cost."
He added that the alliance plans to sponsor another seminar this year to show homeowners how to apply for tax-exempt status for their properties.
"That's what we are all about — helping our residents preserve a quality of life," Vonil said.
By law, Yarbrough said her office is responsible for recording property documentation, but is not authorized to verify the legal claims made in documents.
"If a cashier suspects a document is a fraud, that cashier could notify our fraud department, who would speak to the person right on the spot about our suspicions, and to remind them that such activity is now a felony," Yarbrough said. "These scammers are very sophisticated with their paperwork, and that too makes it hard for a cashier to notice."
At the event, Yarbrough said property owners could sign up for free fraud alerts with her office. Those who sign up for the service would be notified by the recorder's office whenever a document is recorded against their Property Index Number.
Yarbrough recalled one homeowner in South Chicago who was inside her home when a scammer was outside changing her door locks.
"This 80-year-old woman heard some noise outside her door, and when she looked through the window there was a man changing her locks," she said. "The man showed her a deed from my office that showed he was the new property owner and was demanding that she leave immediately or face eviction."
Homeowners needing assistance with property scams can call the Cook County Recorder of Deeds Office at 312-603-4000.