Land Records

Who is Responsible for Who Gets Paid?

Whos on FirstWho to pay?  It starts to feel a little like “Who’s on first, What’s on second and I-don’t-know is on third” when we start to look at complicated mortgage transactions these days. We have mortgages, deeds of trust, lenders, assignees, beneficiaries, lender’s servicing agents, trustees, securities, exchange securities, and more.  

Here, as happens, title companies are charged with collusion in a complicated Ponzi scheme. I question how we legitimately know who should be paid in some of these complicated transactions.  Should the check for a payoff go to the Lender holding the Mortgage or to the Servicing Agent, in hopes it will be properly credited? Did the title company know the scheme?

From Lexology Title Insurance Article by Carlton Fields, an interesting read:

Escrow Agent: Where payments are disbursed to lender’s servicer and escrow agent has not knowledge of servicer’s scheme to defraud lender, lender fails to state a cause of action against escrow agent — Fazeli v. Williamson, No. H036951 (Cal. App. March 27, 2014) (affirming escrow agents’ objections)

Title Work sent to India

As many of us know, Land Records in the US are now routinely sent to India and the Philippines to be input into our computerized public land records.This is a video of some vintage (14 months old) showing the progress of one India firm with over 600 employees doing over 100 processes in all 50 states it says. An interesting overview for all in the title industry, showing the growth in outsourcing the title  industry overseas and the many companies involved. See video at UTube here.

NALTEA Abstractor Certification PREP Class

The National Association of Land Title Examiners and Abstractors
invites all area abstractors to attend our National Certified Abstractor Examination Prep Seminar and Meet and Greet.

Date: Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

Check In: 7:30 A.M. to 8:00 A.M

Seminar: 8:00 A.M. to 4:00 P.M. (with a 1 hour break for lunch at noon)

Meet & Greet: 7:30 A.M to 4 P.M.

Place: Marriott Courtyard in Deerfield, IL
800 Lake Cook Road
Deerfield, IL 60015
(1 mile east of I-94 Tri-State Tollway, Lake Cook Road at Pfingsten Road)

Cost for Meet & Greet: Free! Stop in and meet some of the board members and officers of NALTEA! Ask questions,
receive answers, and take home some fabulous promotional items!

Seminar Fee: $50.00 (current members and future members)

A limited number of copies of Principles of Abstracting, Searching and land Records Management (National Edition) by author Jeanine W.Johnson will be available at the NALTEA reduced rate of $85.00.

Interested in finding out more about NALTEA? Stop in any time during 7:30 A.M and 4 P.M. on May 22nd at the Marriott Courtyard in Deerfield, Illinois. Sit in on the exam prep seminar for a while (no charge for a peek). See for yourself how our certification program may help promote your knowledge and skills to the greater title insurance industry.

Snacks and promotional items will be provided courtesy of NALTEA.

Please RSVP at [email protected] and let us know whether you will be joining us for the seminar or the Meet and Greet or both. Payment for the seminar and/or study guide is due at the event. Personal checks are welcome.

We look forward to meeting you. In the meantime, please visit us at .
By Pat Scott, Sales Manager at OConnor Title Guaranty, Inc.

Buy 2 Seminars Get 1 Free!

Time is running out, but there is still time to register. We are running a special for the April 12-13th Seminar. For the next 24 hours buy 2 and get 1 free!

Annual Principles of Abstracting Class slated for May 4-5

The annual Minnesota “Principles of Abstracting and Land Records Management” two day course is being offered on May 4th and 5th in St Paul, MN at the Country Inn and Suites. The course is designed for County Recorders, Title Insurers, Abstractors, and those who deal in land titles. Participants have included Homeland Security professionals who place towers on various sites, Dept of Transportation professionals who deal in Right of Way projects, Bureau of Indian Affairs, and various Utility companies that place easements such as Excel Energy and  Comcast.

The two day course will help prepare attendees to improve their land title search skills, stay in touch with changes in laws, or prepare for the state abstractor licensing examination.  Topics this year include foreclosures, short searches and comprehensive name searching. You can register by mail or online at

Why Become a NALTEA Certified Abstractor?

 The Louisiana Land Title Association presents:

“Why Become a NALTEA National Certified Abstractor?”  

Jeanine W. Johnson from the National Association of Land Title Examiners and Abstractors (NALTEA) will be giving a presentation at the Louisiana Land Title Association (LLTA) Conference in New Orleans on December 5th, telling the LLTA about NALTEA and its National Certified Abstractor (NCA) designation and education program.The presentation is designed to encourage LLTA members to join NALTEA and show their level of expertise at the national level. The NCA certification will help them be recognized by national companies as an expert in the field of abstracting and will them to better understand the needs and language of out-of-state customers. In addition, NALTEA helps its members stay current on national real estate trends and changes, and gives an important national voice to independent Abstractors and Examiners.
The 2 hour program is a portion of the educational seminar given at the NALTEA conference in New Orleans earlier this year. The seminar will highlight the study guide “Principles of Abstracting and Land Records Management” National Edition, the same manual that was approved by NALTEA and provided to those who were preparing to take the NALTEA certified abstractor exam at the conference.

While every state handles land titles a bit differently, the seminar will focus on variations of a theme including things like “What is the difference between a mortgage and a deed of trust?” and “What are the most common forms of ownership used in the U.S.? ”

Jeanne Johnson is an active associate member of NALTEA. After having spent thirty years in the title industry she has been an author and subject matter expert for various publishers relating to title insurance, abstracting, title examination, and closing and she is now a full time educator for the land title industry and owner of (RETUS) a content-specific website with reasonable, online education for the abstracting, title insurance, closing and land title industries.

Iowa Stops Access to Online Public Land Record Documents

by Robert Franco, Source of Title

Reprinted with Permission


Website Stripped of Sensitive Information

The governing board of the Iowa Land Records Website chose to restrict all access to records maintained on the site after a public backlash led to concerns by lawmakers and residents alike. Last week, the site indicated that it would ignore the request of Governor Chet Culver to block access to the records because many contained sensitive information like Social Security numbers.

Yet, officials indicated that its previous actions had failed to reduce fears of identity theft and privacy concerns and, thus, suspending access to the records was necessary.

Visitors to the site discover a statement from the operators indicating that “…until further notice all document images are restricted and cannot be accessed through this Website.” Phil Dunshee, one of the site’s project managers, said in a press release that access to the records would be suspended indefinitely.

“Recorders sincerely regret the disruptive impact this will have on people in the real estate industry,” Dunshee said. “It’s really the last place they wanted to go, but at this point, I don’t really think they have any further choice.”

Despite providing useful information to real estate professionals, many expressed support for the actions undertaken by the site’s operators.

“As mortgage lenders, we are seeing more and more identity theft on credit reports, so it’s imperative that Social Security numbers be redacted from those old documents,” said Christy Allison, the president of Iowa Mortgage Association, in an interview with The Des Moines Register.

Culver and Michael Maurro, the secretary of state, both had their Social Security numbers listed in documents that were maintained on the Website. After learning this, Culver asked the site to remove his information and block access to documents containing people’s private information last week. The site attempted to block access to thousands of records that contained sensitive information after receiving his request, but apparently failed to adequately do so. Thus, the operators decided to shutdown all access this week.

B.J. Ostergren knows more about you than you think

From the Source of Title Blog, used with their permission.

Maybe you’ve never heard of B.J. Ostergren, but she knows a lot about you. She knows where you live and how much you pay to live there. She has your driver’s license number, your signature, credit card and bank numbers and she has your Social Security number. Likely as not, she has the goods on your parents and children as well. She gathered it all from government websites.

The Virginia Watchdog wants the state to stop displaying your private data online but a new law in Virginia says government agencies have an exclusive right to display private data contained in public records online. Now Ostergren is taking her battle to federal court.

Ostergren has gleaned from online government records the Social Security numbers of many prominent people — Jeb Bush, Colin Powell, Porter Goss and Tom DeLay among them — and posted the documents on her own Web site to demonstrate government’s failure to protect individuals’ privacy.

“I’m not going after the little guy, I’m going after people of prominence that could have some power to do something about this,” Ostergren said.

Ostergren’s website, advocates against making personal information available on the Internet. The website includes public records obtained by Ostergren from government websites that include the Social Security Numbers of public officials. By posting these documents, Ostergren hopes to illustrate the type of information available on government websites, and to prod officials to take action.

Perhaps most offensive to Virginia officials are the links Ostergren posts on her site that document just how easy it is to find documents containing Social Security numbers and other private data belonging to Virginia’s own legislators, judges and county officials.

In March, Virginia legislators reacted to Ostergren’s website by amending a state law prohibiting anyone except government agencies from posting private data online. Under the previous law, individuals were prohibited from disclosing Social Security numbers obtained from private sources, but millions of public records containing Social Security numbers and other private information are available in Virginia on the state’s own websites.

Government websites have become a rich source of data needed by terrorists, identity thieves and stalkers.

Experts say terrorism and identity theft go hand in hand. The al-Qaida training manual US troops found on a laptop computer in Afghanistan includes provisions for trainees to leave camp with five fake personas, says Judith Collins, an identity theft expert, who uses a copy of the manual to train law enforcement officials. Terrorists are regularly schooled in the art of subsisting off credit card fraud while living in the United States, Collins says. The manual also instructs would-be terrorists on the easiest way to find the information they need.

According to former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, speaking on January 15, 2003, the al Qaeda training manual tells its readers, “Using public sources openly and without resorting to illegal means, it is possible to gather at least 80 percent of all information required about the enemy.”

The concept of document security by paid or free subscription to government websites has also proven deadly for at least two young women. Amy Boyer and Rebecca Schaeffer both lost their lives as a result of stalkers accessing their information through government websites. The 1989 murder of TV actress Rebecca Schaeffer resulted in the often-ignored National Driver Protection Act which makes it illegal for companies to buy driver records from state governments. Cases abound of government websites failing to protect constituents when publishing private data contained in public records online.

In an advisory dated August 8th, 2006, Ken Schrad, Director of Virginia’s Division of Information Resources announced that the State’s Bureau of Insurance Website published the Social Security numbers of every insurance agent licensed in the state. He advised the state’s 202,000 agents, many of whom sell identity theft insurance, to watch for any unusual activity on their bank or other financial accounts that might result from the massive breach.

Under the new law, Virginia citizens are prohibited from repeating the state’s mistakes by publishing copies of public documents containing Social Security numbers on private websites or Blogs. But the law allows Virginia’s “official” websites to continue trafficking in identities with almost complete abandon. Virtually anyone– anywhere in the world with an internet connection and twenty five dollars for a subscription to the county website may be granted remote online access to your Social Security number and other private data.

Earlier this month, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia filed a lawsuit on Ostergren’s behalf in federal court in Richmond. Ostergren is challenging the law that targets her website on grounds it violates the First Amendment’s protection of freedom of speech.. She has launched a federal lawsuit that questions who if anyone, has the right to distribute your private/public papers online for the entire world to see. At issue is who has the right to traffic in your identity.

When Virginia Governor Timothy M. Kaine signed the bill on March 11, he and others touted the bill as an effort to curb identity theft, suffered by an estimated 9 million Americans each year. But even the lawmaker behind the bill (Sen. R. Edward Houck) acknowledged that stopping people like Ostergren from publishing the Social Security numbers — not protecting Virginians from identity theft — was the true goal of the legislation.

Ostergren says her tactic of bringing bold and personal awareness to elected officials has worked in other states, such as Vermont, New York, New Mexico, California, Ohio and Florida, where she has fought to get personal information removed from online records. Only in her home state have lawmakers responded by unanimously passing legislation making Ostergren’s tactics illegal and punishable by a $2,500 civil penalty.

Ironically, the questioned statute takes effect on July 1, the same date by which circuit court clerks across the state are required to make all land records available on the Internet. Land records consist of deeds and mortgage documents, but may also include legal judgments, such as divorce decrees and probate, that often contain Social Security Numbers and other personal information. The ACLU is seeking an injunction prohibiting the state from enforcing the law against Ostergren.

“The ACLU is an advocate for laws that prevent the government from allowing Social Security Numbers to appear on publicly accessible websites,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis, “but when the government puts records online that do contain the numbers, it can’t then turn around and prevent the public from disseminating them.”

“Instead of the Virginia General Assembly dealing with the real problem of Social Security numbers being put on Web sites by circuit court clerks, they decided to target me because I posted theirs,” Ostergren told the Washington Examiner.

“This is a wrong-end-up law that attempts to conceal the fact that Virginia’s lawmakers have failed to prevent Social Security Numbers from being placed online in the first place,” added Willis. “If Social Security Numbers were removed from public records when they are placed online, there would be no need for this law.”

While Virginia already has a law requiring Social Security numbers to be redacted from documents posted on the Internet, the legislature failed to fund the privacy statute. Redaction efforts in other states have proven to be largely ineffective and extremely expensive.

The ACLU lobbied against the passage of Virginia’s new law prohibiting anyone except the government from posting Social Security numbers online and asked the Governor to veto it.

When she found out in 2002 that every locality in Virginia would begin posting personal information online, she started The Virginia Watchdog from her Hanover County home.

The lawsuit, which alleges that the law violates Ostergren’s First Amendment rights, points out that shutting down Ostergren’s website will do nothing to protect Social Security Numbers, since all of the documents on the site are also available on government websites. In the 1989 case The Florida Star v. B.J.F., the Supreme Court observed that “where the government has made certain information publicly available, it is highly anomalous to sanction persons other than the source [government websites] of its release.”

Today millions of people from all over the world routinely search and seize our most sensitive documents from government websites. The records can then be used by international criminals to take your property, homes – even your life. Surely this wasn’t what the framers of the constitution had in mind when they promised in the Fourth Amendment, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…”

ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg is providing legal representation to Ostergren. A copy of the ACLU’s complaint can be found online at

Interested parties can Contact Kent Willis or Rebecca Glenberg at 804/644-8022

Simple Title Search Could Have Saved Two Lives

by Robert Franco | 2008/08/12 |

Reprinted with permission from

Carmel Valley, California, is a beautiful place. I was fortunate enough to spend a year in nearby Monterey in the early 1990’s. Sadly, last year it made headlines for a tragic double homicide that could probably have been prevented with a simple title search. A neighborly property dispute escalated to gun fire when a boulder was placed at the end of driveway blocking a carport. The alleged murderer is now on trial and the prosecution is attempting to admit a tardily performed title search into evidence.
In January 2007 John Kenney, the shooter, attempted to end a long standing property line dispute with his neighbors, Elizabeth and Mel Grimes, by placing a large boulder on a 10-by 4-foot of dirt partially blocking the VW bus of the Grimes’. Kenney claimed that he set the boulder there, at his attorney’s advice, to protect his property rights. Expecting trouble, he called the Sheriff’s office on the day it was delivered. The Sheriff’s deputies arrived as the delivery truck was leaving and when it appeared that the delivery was made without incident, they left the scene.
The defense has claimed that Kenney may have been acting in self-defense. Elizabeth Grimes told a police dispatcher that her husband was trying to break the boulder with a sledge hammer. If Mel Grimes was wielding a sledge hammer during a heated argument, Kenney may have felt threatened.
In a separate civil suit, which was later dismissed, Kenney sued the estate of the late Grimes for allegedly vandalizing his property and attacking him while he took pictures of them trespassing. Elizabeth was said to have grabbed a camera that was hanging around his neck. As further evidence that Kenney had a legitimate fear of the Grimes, the defense sought to introduce Elizabeth’s blood alcohol level of .06 at the time of the shooting. There was also evidence that a witness had heard Elizabeth yell at her husband to “leave him alone.”
The 911 tape paints a very different picture, however. Elizabeth could be heard clearly begging the operator to send help. Kenney is heard telling Grimes to “Get off my property,” to which she replied, “You shut up. Get out of our lives.” The prosecution also claimed that Kenney could be heard saying “Welcome, Elizabeth. Welcome to hell.”
Then, there was a rustling noise followed by two gun shots and someone moaning. Elizabeth was screaming, then two more shots. The 911 call ended with the couple exchanging their final “I love you” to each other, then a fifth shot. Clearly a tragedy.
The murder case against Kenney has been plagued by delays. With all of the media attention, the defense had been seeking a change of venue. Because Mel Grimes was a prominent local attorney the defense has tried to have the judges and prosecutor recused because they knew the victim well. Finding impartial jurors has also been quite challenging. The last delay came when the prosecutor was removed for health reasons and the charges were dismissed and refiled with a new prosecutor.
The most recent news came when a title search, complete just a couple weeks ago, revealed that the Grimes had an easement across the disputed land, about the size of surfboard. According to an article in Monterey County’s The Herald, Grimes’ Access to Land Legal, the parties knew of the easement.
Prosecutor Berkley Brannon said a “simple title search” on Kenney’s property showed the Grimeses had a right to cross the rectangular piece of land to get to their carport, which they had done for years.
He said the search, completed two weeks ago, also showed Kenney’s real estate agent had inquired about the easement and that Kenney signed documents signaling his knowledge when he closed escrow on the Hitchcock Canyon Road property in 1999.

Brannon said he’d not yet received the results of a title search on the Grimeses’ neighboring property, but believed they would have known about it as well. Mel Grimes brought the property in 1995.
If true, he said, it could explain why they ignored repeated demands by Kenney and his attorney at the Fenton & Keller law firm to stay off the property.
What is not clear, and what he’s not been able to ask because of attorney-client privilege, Brannon said, is why that attorney did not order his own $500 title search before concluding that the disputed land belonged to Kenney and recommending he place a barrier on it.
Another attorney who represented Kenney, Nick Cvietkovich, told The Herald that a lawyer at Fenton & Keller instructed Kenney that if he did not erect a barrier, the Grimeses could claim a “prescriptive easement” to the land at the top of their shared driveway.
A spokesperson for Fenton & Keller said that he could not comment because of the ongoing attorney-client privilege. Of course, the defense is attempting to have the title search excluded from evidence as irrelevant.
“None of this has anything to do with my client’s property,” he said. “It has to do with him being attacked.”
The judge has not yet ruled on the admissibility of the title search.
I have agree with the prosecutor. Why would Kenney’s lawyers have advised him to place the boulder on the disputed land without first doing a title search to make sure that he was within his rights to do so? Had they conducted a title search, and advised Kenney that the Grimeses were within their rights to use that land, Kenney may not have been happy about it, but the situation might not have escalated into such a deadly feud.
Furthermore, Grimes was an attorney and, even if he was unaware of the easement, he most certainly knew how to go about finding out whether his use of the property was legal. Why didn’t he respond to Fenton & Keller with a letter explaining that he had an easement? That also could have de-escalated the situation.
It would seem that the first step in any boundary dispute between neighbors would be to obtain a proper title search to determine the parties legal rights. In this case, it came way too late and may have needlessly contributed to two deaths.

About the Author
Robert A. Franco has been in the title industry for nearly 20 years in the state of Ohio. The owner of VersaTitle, a full service abstracting and title company, and the founder and president of Source of Title, Franco has dedicated much of his professional career to the land records industry.

Laws Change to Protect Consumer When Recording Deeds

A Philidelphia online Newspaper, RoxReview has a must read story about title theft and how they plan to combat the bad guys. Here is an excerpt about the ploy:

…thieves find houses that are vacant and obviously have not been looked after.

They use public records to learn when taxes and water bills have last been paid to make sure the properties’ owners have had little involvement or have not been paying any attention to them…
(then) a house thief simply gets some legal stationery, types up a deed and gets the property transfer notarized … He then presents that paperwork to the city’s Records Department, pays some fees and in a matter days becomes listed as the owner of record.

The article suggests title insurance as a protection from the problem, but it wants the government to do more. Learn what laws or regulations Philadelphia is considering to curb the growing problem.

Info On Home Closing

Home Closing 101: An Educational Initiative of the American Land Title Association