It used to be that if you wanted to find out who owned your mortgage, you could go to the office of your local register of deeds, the final authority on questions of property ownership.
But when banks set up their own private registration system to help them bundle and resell mortgages in a whirlwind of securities exchanges, the land offices of record had no hope of keeping up.
And when some banks later foreclosed on many of those properties, often cutting corners or worse — creating phony documents — it left register of deeds offices across Wisconsin awash in forged and fraudulent documents.
That’s a “serious problem” for registrars charged with maintaining property records, said Brown County Register of Deeds Cathy Williquette Lindsay, who heads a committee studying foreclosure fraud on behalf of the Wisconsin Register of Deeds Association.
“It’s troubling to know that in each of our offices, are thousands — and I mean thousands — of fraudulent documents,” Williquette Lindsay said.
Registrars’ offices across Wisconsin are littered with paperwork signed and sworn to by fictitious people, including “Linda Green,” a handle commonly used by “robo-signers” — workers who signed off on foreclosure documents without verifying them.
“Not only did ‘Linda Green’ not sign it,” Williquette Lindsay said, “but somebody fraudulently notorized it.”