NEW YORK (WABC) -- It wasn't the closing on a house - instead New York Governor Kathy Hochul's signature on Tuesday came in the form of a new legislation to crack down on deed theft, a practice in which owners are defrauded out of the property titles to their homes.
"Deed theft cheats hardworking New Yorkers out of the opportunity to own and keep their homes and forces families out of their communities - particularly in Black and Brown neighborhoods," Gov. Hochul said.
Deed theft occurs when someone takes the title to someone's home without the homeowner's knowledge or approval, most commonly through forgery, when a scammer fakes a homeowner's signature on a deed and files it with the county clerk, or fraud, when a homeowner unwittingly signs the deed over to a scammer.
According to the New York City Sheriff's Office, there have been at least 3,500 deed theft complaints filed in New York City in the past ten years.
Just this week, authorities arrested a woman accused of fraudulently selling a home in the Bronx. The woman, Mercedes Tiffany King, allegedly claimed she was heir to the property after the homeowner died in 2020.
As it turned out, the man was not related to her but had the same name as King's real father who had also recently passed away.
The scam typically targets elderly homeowners who have fallen behind on their mortgage payments, usually in communities that are becoming gentrified.
Victims often think they are refinancing, only to find they have signed over their property.
It took one Brooklyn couple, nine years to reclaim their ownership after being duped in the scam.
"Deed theft steals generational wealth from Black and Brown communities," said NY Attorney General Letitia James during Tuesday's press conference. "It's gone on for far too long."
The new law makes it easier for the Attorney General and District Attorneys to invalidate documents, which are usually forged and makes it harder to evict homeowners after they've been swindled.