Maricopa Recorder Offers New Fraud Alert That Can Help And Hurt Property Owners

deed title

Want to be alerted if someone records a document with the Maricopa County Recorder’s Office in your name or that of your business? Or maybe you want to be notified when the ex-wife refinances her house or the neighbor next door adds a beneficiary trust to their property?

Maricopa Title Alert is a new free service launched last week by Maricopa County that sends an email to participating subscribers when a document is recorded with the Maricopa County Recorder’s office under the name of a specific individual or business. The email will include a link to view the recently recorded document.

The program was designed, according to County Recorder Stephen Richer, to provide peace of mind for people who worry about identity theft that can lead to property title theft. The only option before last week was to pay a fraud protection services company such as Tempe-based LifeLock by Norton.

But as with most technologies, data privacy experts point out Maricopa Title Alert can be used for good or nefarious purposes.

John Backer, a cybersecurity specialist, told Arizona Daily Independent the new alert system is a not a cure-all and could give people a false sense of security. He also worries Maricopa Title Alert could, in some instances, actually make it easier for some criminals to commit identity theft, particularly title fraud.

This would include the recording of a lien release, which can leave a property more attractive to scammers, as well as the recording of military DD-214 discharge documents which are popular among identity thieves.

Under Arizona’s public records laws, the email addresses of those who utilize Maricopa Title Alert are themselves disclosable to the public. One thing Backer would like to see Maricopa County add to the alert system is a feature showing every name being tracked, along with all email addresses tracking those names.

Gov. Katie Hobbs signed legislation in April that requires all counties by Jan. 1, 2025, to provide some type of system that allows for a person or entity to request notification “when any document is recorded in which the person or entity is a named party” to the document.

But the Maricopa Title Alert offers more than that. It allows anyone to track the recording of any documents under any paired first and last name, with no way to narrow the alert parameters by middle name or initial, nor to tie the request to a specific address or parcel.

The sign-up page makes no guarantees of prompt notices, noting that registering for the free service “does not constitute a liability on the part of the Maricopa County Recorder’s office.”

Any suspicious activity is to be reported to a local law enforcement agency or the Arizona Attorney General’s Office.

Earlier this year, Rocket Mortgage addressed the growing, but still extremely rare, occurrence of home title theft. The company noted that home title theft comes in several forms, including:

  • A fraudulent refinance in which the person withdraws your equity and leaves you with another mortgage. While they don’t gain possession of your home, they use your identity to steal money based on your home’s value.
  • Similarly, they can access your equity through a home equity line of credit (HELOC) and create a mountain of debt for which you’re responsible.
  • Thieves can forge deeds to sell uninhabited real estate, such as rental buildings or vacation homes.
  • Someone might present homeowners in financial hardship with a fake refinancing opportunity. At closing, the homeowner unknowingly signs paperwork for a home sale assigning the scammer as the new owner.
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