Neil Viner, Title Officer with Lawyers Title Company in Burbank, California, received an order for an owner's title policy regarding the sale of a home for $470,000 from an independent escrow officer he works with regularly. He performed the title search and prepared the title report.
Neil's search revealed a few uninsured deeds in the chain of title. As a result, he required an Affidavit of Uninsured Deed for each transfer. He sent the report to the escrow officer.
The escrow officer sent out the necessary documents and instructions to the sellers, who were a married couple. A few days later a random person, not otherwise affiliated with the seller or listing agent, delivered the executed documents to the escrow officer. The escrow officer immediately scanned them and sent them to Neil for review.
Neil noticed that all the documents were completed by the same person, since the handwriting and ink were the same. He recognized the notary as a colleague who worked at a different office. Neil reached out to his colleague who confirmed the signers never appeared in front of her and she did not acknowledge their signatures.
Neil immediately escalated the file to his manager. His manager did an extensive search of each individual involved in the uninsured deeds discovered in the chain of title and who purportedly executed the documents. The manager found even more discrepancies — starting with the social security numbers provided did not match up with the sellers' names.
Neil notified the escrow officer that the seller would have to re-execute the documents in her presence. The seller refused to come to her office but did have someone drop off copies of the California drivers licenses for the grantors of the uninsured deeds.
Once again, Lawyers Title reached into their bag of tricks to confirm they were all fakes. The manager has a reliable contact in law enforcement who reviewed the IDs and confirmed they were not valid. In addition, the law enforcement officer opened a case file and began an investigation.
Neil's professional relationship with the escrow officer proved key in this instance. As the title insurance company, Lawyers Title insures against fraud and forgery. The escrow officer was instrumental in sharing her suspicions so Neil could investigate further.
Neil's investigation led to a denial to insure and thwarted a potential claim of $470,000. For his investigative skills, Neil is being rewarded $1,500. Keep fighting the good fight!
Article provided by contributing author:
Diana Hoffman, Corporate Escrow Administrator
Fidelity National Title Group
National Escrow Administration