The Pueblo County Clerk and Recorder’s Office is instituting a new system to help safeguard property owners from fraud.
Across the nation, there has been a recent increase in mortgage and property fraud, where a person files fraudulent deeds, mortgages, or other liens against a property without the owner’s knowledge or consent, according to Clerk and Recorder Candace Rivera.
Under the new early warning system, the recording department at the clerk’s office will notify the property owner by letter when someone attempts to file a lien on a property. This will allow the property owner to take action if they believe fraudulent activity has occurred.
“In Pueblo, we just started implementing this new process. (Locally) it hasn’t become an issue just yet, although we’ve had a couple since I’ve been in office,” Rivera said. “We can’t prevent the fraud, but it will add a layer of protection for citizens.”
Rivera noted that the rising trend of property fraud is more of a state and national problem than a local one, although two such cases have been reported to her since she has been in office.
Tenth Judicial District Attorney Jeff Chostner noted that the most common targets of this kind of property fraud are elected officials and members of the judiciary. Those responsible are often discontented political activists, such as “sovereign citizens,” who largely believe that United States law does not apply to them for a variety of reasons often tied to conspiracy theories.
“If a county commissioner, a mayor, or other elected official takes action without their approval, they’ll summon them to their impromptu court and if the official doesn’t appear, they’ll hold them ‘in contempt of court,’ and the liens will be placed on their houses then,” Chostner explained.
Previous cases from 2019-2021 targeted elected officials in Pueblo, Denver, and other places across the state, he said.
Chostner himself was targeted by “sovereign citizens” who filed fraudulent documents against him, former Pueblo County Sheriff Kirk Taylor, and then-District Court Judges Deborah Eyler and Kim Karn.
That campaign of harassment orchestrated by “sovereign citizens” activists ended in a statewide grand jury indictment in 2017.
Eight of the activists were later charged with crimes such as criminal extortion, attempting to influence a public servant, and retaliation against a public official and received prison sentences for violating state laws.
Chostner noted Monday that the sentences for these types of fraud cases may include decades in prison.
“On the three that I’m aware of, and actually testified in, we had two sentences of 34 years and one of 38 years,” Chostner said.
Along with elected officials, senior citizens are also often targeted, said Donald Valdez, recording director for the clerk’s recording department.
“This is something that they wouldn’t know unless we sent that letter saying, ‘Hey, someone is trying to change the name on the deed to your property,'” Rivera said.
How to prevent deed fraud
As a property owner, there are several additional steps the clerk’s office recommends to prevent deed fraud:
- Check with the Pueblo County Clerk and Recorder’s Recording Department at least once a year to verify no deeds or mortgages have been recorded on your property without your consent.
- Verify with the Pueblo County Assessor’s Office and Treasurer’s Office they have the correct mailing address for you or the person who should receive notices about your property.
- Contact the Pueblo County Assessor’s Office and Treasurer’s Office if you stop receiving your property notifications and tax bills.
- If your property is vacant, check it often to make sure it is not occupied illegally. Ask someone you trust to look after your home if you are going to be away for a long period of time.
- When a family member passes away and someone else inherits the property, make sure you update the deed with the new owner’s name.
- Discuss with your trusted family members before making any decisions that affect ownership of your property, such as adding or removing someone from a deed or taking out a new mortgage, reverse mortgage or second mortgage. If you feel it prudent, you may want to consult a lawyer.
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