Secretary of State Connie Lawson is warning potential homebuyers about scam artists who use authentications from the Secretary of State’s office to swindle Hoosiers into fraudulent real estate transactions. The scam artists are domestic terrorists who refer to themselves as sovereign citizens and believe the government is illegitimate. They are using authentications from the Secretary of State’s office to create the illusion they own vacant property to trick Hoosiers into illegitimate home sales.
“A judge recently sentenced Shela Amos of Indianapolis to 34 years for defrauding victims using the vacant home sale scheme,” said Secretary Lawson. “While this will stop Amos, unfortunately, others are waiting to pick up where she left off. Hoosiers should use extreme caution when dealing with sovereign citizens. They have no regard for the law and are master manipulators.”
The vacant home sale scheme is popular among sovereign citizens. At first, they identify abandoned homes and create documents claiming they own the property. Then they have a notary sign the document. They bring the signed document to the Secretary of State’s office and request an apostille, a gold seal for overseas authentications, to certify the notary’s signature is authentic. After the document has an apostille, they file it with the county recorder’s office. Once the document has the seal and is on file with the recorder’s office, the scam artists bring prospective home buyers to the recorder’s office to show them the document they created as proof they own the real estate they are selling.
In a majority of cases, sovereign citizens target Hispanics with a language barrier. They lead their victims to believe they have legitimately purchased property even though they don’t own the property or have the legal authority to sell.
The apostilles and authentications they use are exclusively for international business and other transactions, specifically, in patent and trademark registrations and foreign adoptions. They have nothing to do with property.
“Con artists target members of the Hispanic community, but all Hoosiers should be cautious when dealing with sovereign citizens,” Lawson stated. “Because of their disregard for the law, they concoct many schemes using phony authority and even retaliate against law enforcement and government officials who work to stop them.”
After sovereign citizens like Shela Amos are sentenced for their crimes, many harass the law enforcement officers, judges or prosecutors they believe wrongly convicted them. They often file fraudulent Uniform Commercial Code financing statements or real property liens against the law enforcement officer or civic leader for millions of dollars. These fraudulent filings cause issues when the victim attempts to buy or sell a home or open a line of credit. Many victims don’t even realize they have been targeted until they go to sell or buy property. It can take years to have the statement or lien removed, causing major headaches.
Just last month, the General Assembly passed House Enrolled Act 1054, giving the Secretary of State’s office the ability to prevent the filing of these deceitful documents. Previously, the Secretary of State’s office did not have the authority to reject financing statements or liens. The ability to reject fraudulent filings will protect those in law enforcement and civic leaders from the harassment of criminals.