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updated: 12/20/2013 4:55 PM

Protect yourself from house 'thefts'

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The holiday season is a festive time of year when friends and family gather. But the holidays are also a prime time for fraudsters to take advantage of their unsuspecting victims' generosity and good will.

The people most at risk are the ones who have done the least to protect themselves and their property. Imagine waking up one day to learn you've lost your home, and it had nothing to do with a fire or burglary. It all started with a piece of paper and a devious criminal.

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Most people are not aware that it is easier to steal a house than it is to steal a car. Enterprising thieves can go online and find information on properties and then with a few minutes in Photoshop create a fake deed and go to one of our offices to record it. When that fake document is filed, the fraudster owns the property until a judge rules the document fraudulent.

Many times property owners are completely unaware of what has happened and they find that their property has been sold or rented out to other people. Sadly, it can take months and cost a great deal of money for property owners to get the situation resolved.

The fake documents these criminals bring to our office look real and because we are not authorized to validate legal claims, these documents must be accepted. This is why our office has created another line of defense for property owners. We call it our Property Fraud Alert. By signing up for our free program, property owners are given an alert either by email or by phone any time a document is recorded against their property.

To learn more visit cookrecorder.com or call (800) 728-3858.

Karen Yarbrough

Recorder of deeds

Cook County

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