Thieves Taking Over Properties — With Paperwork

Tarrant County investigating fraudulent schemes

Criminals have taken over as many as 400 pieces of property in Tarrant County without the real owners knowing, an assistant district attorney said Monday.

"It’s been a significant problem lately," prosecutor David Lobingier said.

He estimated the property involved in the fraud was worth several million dollars.

In some cases, thieves have even cashed bonuses for mineral rights on property they did not own, he said.

Lobingier said he was reluctant to talk about details of the scheme because it is under investigation, but said it involves the transfer of property records in the county clerk's office to "straw owners."

It’s "terribly difficult" for owners to protect themselves or even know they’ve been victimized, the prosecutor said.

The paperwork changes appear legitimate, and county clerks have no reason to question them, said Chief Deputy County Clerk Jeff Nicholson.

Millions of documents are filed on property records in Tarrant County every year, he said.

But the Tarrant County clerk will soon begin using a new computer program to try to stop fraudulent schemes.

The program will automatically notify property owners by e-mail, traditional mail or a phone call when a change is made to their property records, Nicholson said.

"It's certainly something we can do to let people know that documents have been filed involving their property, which…will help tremendously,” he said.

The service is free but won’t be available for several weeks. Property owners must sign up to receive the alerts.

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