SPRINGFIELD, IL-(March 25, 2009) Amid a major effort to combat the mortgage fraud epidemic, increase consumer protection and rebuild confidence in the state's economy, the Illinois General Assembly has enacted a new law that mandates stronger identity verification measures by notaries public, and in Cook County, implements a new recordkeeping procedure to increase security when a property is transferred from seller to buyer.
The 4-year pilot program, which begins June 1, helps prevent "house stealing" scams in the Chicago area by requiring notaries to create a record which contains specific identification information and the thumbprint of the property seller when property transfers are notarized. In "house stealing" scams, con artists pilfer identities, fake property transfer documents and sell -- or borrow against -- a victim's home without them ever knowing it, thus robbing them of their most valuable investment or having a lien placed on the property. Notaries throughout Illinois must comply with the new law if a notarization involving the transfer of title to a residence is to be filed with the Cook County Recorder of Deeds.
In a just-released report issued by the Mortgage Banker's Association, Illinois now ranks No. 3 in mortgage-related fraud, up from No. 6 just a year ago. The new law (Senate Bill 546) -- the culmination of a 5-year legislative process initiated by the Illinois Mortgage Fraud Task Force with the support of the National Notary Association -- relies upon notaries to help increase trust and consumer protection in the real estate industry because of the vital role they play as identity verifiers.
"I congratulate the General Assembly for enacting this important law. The citizens of Illinois are increasingly becoming victims of criminals intent on stealing their most prized asset," said Timothy S. Reiniger, Executive Director of the National Notary Association. "The new law goes a long way to increase the security of property conveyances, and creates important evidence of who appeared before the notary claiming to be the property seller. We are glad that the state has turned to notaries to provide this security."
The fraudulent transfer of property is becoming increasingly pervasive in Illinois and across the nation. Recently, it gained attention in Chicago when a relative of Cook County Recorder of Deeds Eugene Moore became the victim of a house stealing scam. And the City of New York experienced the temporary theft of a major American icon, the Empire State Building, by a newspaper reporter who wanted to prove how easy it is to transfer title to a property by using fraudulent documents and false identification.
The notarial record and thumbprint creates evidence of identity and is an effective way to limit fraud and identity crimes, providing dramatically increased protection for Illinois consumers. The law includes measures to protect seller privacy and to ensure that the thumbprints obtained by a notary are kept secure. Recent media reports objecting to the new law on privacy grounds have failed to report that the notarial record containing the thumbprint is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act and cannot be disclosed without a court subpoena. The press also neglected to report that the notary creating the record is not allowed to retain the record, but must file it either with the notary's employer or the Cook County Recorder of Deeds.
Since 1993, the state of California has been requiring notaries to record thumbprint on all notarizations relating to real property transactions. To date there have been no fraud cases related to a thumbprint or any other data being compromised from the records of the state's more than 250,000 notaries public.
SOURCE: National Notary Association