Document Forgery and Real Estate Fraud

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Over the years, I’ve handled a number of cases involving document forgery and real estate fraud. In each case, the forger is trying to either steal money or property. For instance, in one case, an individual forged his partner’s signature on a deed and then recorded the fake deed. He did this so that the property would be transferred into his name. In another case, a young man created numerous fake deeds and title-related documents, all to convince his partner to fund the fake real estate transactions.

Claims To Recover Stolen Money

Forgery and fraud claims can give rise to a series of legal claims against the fraudster. The first and most obvious claim is one for common law fraud. To establish common law fraud, Plaintiffs must prove: (1) a false representation of past or existing material fact susceptible of knowledge; (2) made with knowledge of the falsity of the representation or made without knowing whether it was true or false; (3) with the intention to induce action in reliance thereon; (4) that the representation caused action in reliance thereon; and (5) pecuniary damages as a result of the reliance.  U.S. Bank N.A. v. Cold Spring Granite Co., 802 N.W.2d 363, 373 (Minn. 2011)

Where money is stolen, a civil theft claim may be appropriate. Minnesota’s Civil Theft statute provides that “A person who steals personal property from another is civilly liable to the owner of the property for its value when stolen plus punitive damages of either $50 or up to 100 percent of its value when stolen, whichever is greater.” Minn. Stat. 604.14. Courts have held that a claim arises under the Civil Theft Statute for the theft of money. See Waters v. Cafesjian, 127 F.Supp.3d 994 (D. Minn. 2015).

Courts rely on the criminal theft statute to determine whether a defendant’s conduct amounted to theft. Theft includes the act of intentionally and without claim of right, taking, using, transferring, or concealing property of another without the other’s consent and with intent to deprive the owner permanently of possession. Minn. Stat. § 609.52, Subd. 2(a)(1). Theft also includes obtaining property “by swindling, whether by artifice, trick, device, or any other means.” Id. Subd. 2(a)(4).

Claims To Recover Property

Where real estate has been stolen through an act of fraud or forgery, it is critically important to recover the real estate and correct the property records. To do this, it is necessary to bring a quiet title claim in court. A quiet title claim is a claim where the court is asked to determine the rightful owner of real property. Minnesota courts are expressly authorized by statute to determine ownership of real property. Minn. Stat. 555.01 and 555.02.

Quiet title claims are often complex, and require a solid understanding of real estate law. For instance, to prevail in a quiet title claim, one must prove not only that a party acquired the property by fraud, but also that no one else with an interest in the property will be adversely impacted by a decision in your favor. Ultimately, the goal of a quiet title action is to have the court restore ownership of the property back to the rightful owner.

Ways To Prove Fraud or Forgery

There are several methods for proving in court that a document has been forged. The first and most obvious method is through the testimony of the person whose signature purports to appear on the document. If that testimony is not available, or will not be persuasive, then a forensic document examiner can be enlisted to review the document. A forensic document examiner will compare the suspect signature to other examples of the individual’s authentic signature to determine whether the signature is authentic.