Recently, a North Texas woman lost ownership of her home when a fraudulent deed was filed transferring ownership of her residence, according to news reports. Because mortgage fraud continues to be a nationwide problem, Tarrant County offers a free service that can protect property owners.
“Foreclosures were once the preferred target for criminals trying to take property from homeowners unlawfully,” said Tarrant County Clerk Mary Louise Garcia. “However, as foreclosure rates plummet, criminals have modified their tactics.”
The most likely method will be introducing fraudulent documents in the County Clerk’s Office that could cloud title or ownership of property, she said. Each month her employees reject suspicious documents that persons attempt to enter in the land records that could potentially cloud home ownership.
Their job is made easier by the Property Fraud Alert (PFA) service that helps to protect homeowners from such fraud. PFA is a free on-line notification service that alerts subscribers via email or telephone each time a document is recorded in the County Clerk’s office with their name listed as a signing party. More than 36,000 Tarrant County residents have subscribed to protect themselves since 2009 when the program was implemented.
It only takes a few moments to sign up for the service. Property owners may go to www.TarrantCounty.com, and then select Sign Up For from the I Want To area of the page. Participants will be notified only when the exact name they have provided is listed as a ‘Grantor’ or ‘Grantee’ on any of 90 different document types recorded in the County Clerk’s Office. A participant will be provided a link directly to the document in question. PFA is customizable in that alerts can be generated by email or telephone call from a PFA representative.
People seeking fraudulent over-the-phone payments by falsely accusing Tarrant County residents for failing to appear for jury duty have added a new tactic lending them a false sense of authenticity, said Terry Grisham, Executive Administrator for the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office (TCSO).
Those targeted by the scam should file a police report, said Grisham, adding that they may also want to report the matter to a federal agency that investigates Internet-related cyber-crime.
The scam involves an individual calling a Tarrant County resident and telling him or her that there is a warrant out for the person’s arrest for failing to appear for jury duty, said Tarrant County Jury Bailiff Paula Morales. They are then given the option to pay their fine with a credit card, or a pre-paid debit card like a Green Dot Money Card, to avoid being arrested.
Recently, the scammers have begun using the names of TCSO command staff chiefs to give the fraudulent operation a false authenticity, said Grisham. Morales added that they have also used the name of one of the County’s judges. These names are apparently being copied off of Tarrant County web pages.
Morales said that, if a warrant is actually issued for failing to appear for jury duty, a uniformed officer would personally serve the warrant. “If an officer contacts you by phone, it would be to instruct you to immediately report to the jury room or to a court in order to avoid potential sanctions,” she said. “No money is ever requested or collected over the phone for failure to report for jury duty.” Additionally, any fines or sanctions would be assessed by the judge only after the person is brought before the court.
If you have any questions about a call alleging that you have a warrant for failing to appear for jury duty, contact the Tarrant County Jury services at 817-884-3820. Those contacted by the scammers should also call their local police department and file a report, said Grisham, adding that those who live in the unincorporated areas of the County can report the crime to the Sheriff’s Office by calling 911. Further, because the Internet is being used, a report can be filed with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at www.ic3.gov. The IC3 is affiliated with the FBI.
The caller informs the citizen that they failed to report for jury duty and a fine has been assessed. The fine ranges from $2,000 to $4,000. The caller advises the citizen that there is a warrant for their arrest and they must report to court. The caller usually tells them to report to Judge Thomas Wright at a specific court location like 100 W. Weatherford, Room 4C. The name of the judge is generally the same but the location varies. The citizen is instructed to go to a local Walmart or grocery store to obtain a Green Dot Money Card which is a pre-paid reloadable debit card.
The scam artists are using disposable cell phones so they have no problem giving the citizen a phone number to call them back. Also, they tell the citizen they can contact ADA Clemmons with Tarrant County District Attorney’s office to verify the information. Once the citizen gets the Green Dot Money Card, they are instructed to give the Green Dot Money Card information over the phone which will satisfy the fine and the warrant will be dismissed. This allows the scam artist to get the money so there is no actual face-to-face contact. The scam artists sound very convincing over the phone. They threaten the citizen with jail and fines in order to get them to comply.
Tarrant County Jury Services would never contact you by phone to pay a fine for failing to appear for jury service. Typically, we would send a failed to appear notice before taking any action. If a warrant is issued for your arrest, there is no warning phone call. The courts do not allow citizens to pay a fine in lieu of jury service. A fine can be assessed, and in some cases jail time but it would still result in the jury service being rescheduled to a later date.
If you are contacted, write down the phone number the person is calling from and do not give the caller any personal information, then call the non-emergency dispatch at (817) 743-4522.