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Arizona is seeing a rise in deed fraud schemes in which entire homes are sold out from under the rightful owners.

The state Attorney General’s Office said it has received dozens of complaints about properties being sold without the owners’ knowledge by unknown scammers who filed forged warranty deeds with the county recorder’s office.

The process for regaining ownership can be long and costly.

The main targets are houses without a mortgage that are vacant or used for vacation rentals, and the victims are usually corporations or out-of-state homeowners. It’s also happened to homes where the resident has recently died.

County recorder’s offices aren’t required to validate document signatures, and they don’t have the staffing or training to do so. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said that’s the kind of system weakness scammers see as an invitation.

“They are willing to risk committing a fraud, a fraud scheme or forgery in order to make money,” Brnovich told KTAR News 92.3 FM’s Arizona’s Morning News on Thursday.

“And so, this is something that crooks have been doing for generations, and prosecutors and law enforcement are always trying to stop as far as what is the next scheme, what is the next fraud.”

The losses can go beyond the cost of recovering ownership, Brnovich said.

“We heard a story where there was an elderly parent that lived in the home that had passed away, and before one of the siblings could clear the property out, the thieves had done this, and they basically took photo albums, all these lifetime of memories, and dumped them somewhere,” he said.

“And so, they lost something that, frankly, it’s not only the money, but sometimes things that are inside of that home that you can never recover again.”

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