Wayne County Recorder Debbie Tiemann has heard a scary example of property fraud: Snowbird landowners return home to find a different house on their property.

Their property had been fraudulently sold, and the buyers had demolished the existing house and built their own.

Such property fraud is rare in Indiana, according to the Indiana Recorders Association, but it’s a growing problem nationwide. Tiemann urges Wayne County residents to register for a free property alert program from Doxpop, a company that enables access to court and other recorded government records.

A screenshot shows the three steps necessary to register for Doxpop’s free Property Watch to receive alerts when documents are filed about a property. All Wayne County property owners are encouraged by the county recorder to register as a means to mitigate property fraud.

Doxpop’s Property Watch program is free to the county and to the owners of county properties, be they homeowners, landlords or businesses. Tiemann said Doxpop offers the service for about half of Indiana’s counties. Owners of property outside Wayne County should contact that county’s recorder for information about fraud protection.

Registering for Doxpop’s Property Watch takes three steps that can be completed in less than five minutes. Go to Doxpop’s site directly at watch.doxpop.com/property/ or find a link at the recorder’s website, co.wayne.in.us/recorder. Registration is also possible by calling Doxpop at 765-965-7363. Multiple properties can be registered at the same time. 

“We’d like to see everyone do it,” Tiemann said. “We’re definitely asking everybody to sign up.”

Property Watch does not prevent fraud; however, it sends an email when documents involving a listed property are filed. The early warning provides an opportunity for appropriate actions to try and mitigate the fraud.

Tiemann said perpetrators forge documents to essentially steal a property, then sell it through remote closings with title companies using fraudulent notaries. The first hint a property owner would have about the fraud is when property documents are recorded.

The Indiana Land Title Association is considering work toward legislation that would slow the closing process to combat fraud, Tiemann said.

Perpetrators seem to prey on people who have paid off their mortgages and older people who spend long periods away from home, according to Tiemann.

“It’s really scary,” Tiemann said.

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A version of this article appeared in the February 14 2024 print edition of the Western Wayne News.

Mike Emery is a reporter and layout editor for the Western Wayne News.