AG James expands program to further combat deed theft in southeast Queens

Attorney General Letitia James is expanding an anti-displacement program that will help protect southeast Queens homeowners from deed theft. (QNS file photo)

Southeast Queens homeowners will have increased protections from deed fraud and scams targeting the elderly, immigrants and New Yorkers facing economic hardship.

Attorney General Letitia James announced her office would increase funding to expand its “Protect Our Homes” initiative that works to preserve community stabilization and allows residents to remain in their homes.

“COVID-19 has exposed and expanded the economic pressures New Yorkers were already under, and homeowners in gentrified areas throughout New York City continue to be targeted in schemes designed to steal their homes,” James said. “Deed theft is a crime that threatens to rip away homeownership and perpetuates a terrible cycle of displacement. This initiative is critical to helping New Yorkers stay in their homes, and my office will continue to work alongside our government and community partners to combat these predatory and heartless crimes.”

Funding for the program will be increased with an $800,000 grant that will identify homeowners vulnerable to scams and provide targeted support in southeast Queens and parts of Brooklyn and the Bronx. Deed theft has become a common tool of career criminals and unscrupulous developers to illegally obtain real estate so they can sell it at a huge profit.

“In middle-class communities like those I represent, folks’ homes are their nest eggs,” state Senator Leroy Comrie said. “House speculation, deed theft and other types of fraud are an imminent threat to the financial security of many at-risk, middle- and fixed-income homeowners.”

Deed theft occurs when scammers forge deeds to look like they purchased a home, or when homeowners are tricked into signing their homes over to a scammer without knowing what they are doing. Scammers then seek to evict the homeowners and sell the house to a third party at a significant profit.

“All too often, predatory bad actors attempt to manipulate and deceive homeowners during their time of crisis, worsening an already difficult situation,” Councilman I. Daneek Miller said. “With the expansion of this initiative and its tailored, proactive outreach to vulnerable homeowners, we have another powerful tool in our toolbox to protect and preserve the livelihoods of southeast Queens residents.”

The increased funding will go towards increasing an information campaign and expanding the Homeowner Help desk, a program staffed by nonprofit housing experts. Those who believe they have experienced deed theft are encouraged to contact the OAG by calling the helpline at 800-771-7755 or emailing deedtheft@ag.ny.gov.

“We must ensure that our neighbors are not robbed of their family home and generational wealth,” Assemblyman Clyde Vanel said. “Too often New Yorkers lose their homes, to unscrupulous tactics, that they have worked to pay off in 30 years. This program will help protect our neighborhoods and the family homes.”

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