Deed fraud is on the rise in metro Atlanta and around the state, with unsuspecting residents losing their homes and life savings to criminals.

Old Fourth Ward Atlanta homeowner Linda Willis was a recent victim, and now she’s hoping to raise awareness about the increase of deed fraud. Linda purchased her home in Old Fourth Ward in July 1990. The area itself, along Ralph McGill Boulevard, is a popular, historical part of town. Linda says she’d faithfully paid her mortgage for 30 years and had no intentions of selling the property.

In November 2021, Linda came home to find a bulldozer in her front yard. Within a matter of minutes, her beloved house was gone. The crane operator told her that he’d been hired by a company who’d recently purchased the home from another woman. In an interview with WSB-TV, Linda told investigative reporters that a woman filed fraudulent documents in the Fulton County Probate Court on February 24, 2021. The woman asked the Court to appoint her deceased mother (also named Linda Willis) as administrator over Linda Willis’ home in Old Fourth Ward. Linda had no idea that all this had happened until the bulldozer showed up at her house.

“This is a sad day. After 30 years of paying a mortgage, it has become dangerous to be a senior and own gentrified urban property,” Linda told reporters.

Metro Atlanta is seeing an increase in deed fraud, especially in areas of gentrification like the Old Fourth Ward. The criminals typically target homes where the mortgage has been paid off, so they don’t have to deal with a bank or other financial institution. They look for homeowners with very common names. The criminals also target homes that appear to be empty or are boarded up. (Linda’s home was partially boarded up in early 2021, due to fire damage.)

There are ways, however, that homeowners can protect their homes from deed fraud and theft:

  • Register your property with the fraud registry in your local municipality.
  • Install a doorbell camera so you can watch for anyone who is trespassing or appears to be casing the property. You can also keep an eye out for suspicious vehicles.
  • Take out an owner’s title insurance policy.
  • Retitle your property if you have a common name.
  • Run a title search to make sure your property is titled correctly.
  • After checking how it could affect your credit, take out a HELOC.
  • Record a protective title affidavit to declare your intentions of not selling your property.

If you become the victim of deed fraud or theft, you should file a police a police report immediately.

You should also reach out to an experienced real estate attorney who will advocate on your behalf and prevent the thieves from attempting to re-sell the property.

The author is an Atlanta attorney who heads the real estate team at Brian M. Douglas & Associates.

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