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How to Safeguard Your Property: A Step-by-Step Guide to Checking Your Deed

You might have come across this postcard sent by our office, alerting you about a suspicious Quitclaim Deed filed against your property. This could be a sign of fraudulent activity. Alternatively, you might have heard...

You might have come across this postcard sent by our office, alerting you about a suspicious Quitclaim Deed filed against your property. This could be a sign of fraudulent activity. Alternatively, you might have heard about our FREE Property Fraud Alert service and want to ensure the integrity of your title before signing up. No matter the reason, this article will guide you through the process of checking your chain of title in our public database and identifying any irregularities.

When you purchased your home, the deed was conveyed to you, with the assurance that it was free of any encumbrances. However, scammers can file false claims on top of your legitimate deed, affecting your ability to sell, refinance, or pass on your property.

County recorders are not legally responsible for verifying the claims made in documents, meaning you need to take proactive steps to protect your ownership rights. Regularly inspecting your "chain of title" is crucial, or you can sign up for our FREE Property Fraud Alert, which automates the process by checking our database daily and notifying you via phone or email whenever a document is recorded against your property's 14-digit Property Index Number (PIN).

It's important to note that while we are happy to assist if you suspect fraud, we are not authorized to provide legal advice. Always consult an attorney before making decisions that might impact your ownership interest in the property.

How to Check Your Deed

Step 1 - Locate Your PIN

To begin, find your 14-digit Property Index Number (PIN). You can find it on your property tax bill from the County Treasurer. If you don't have it handy, you can look it up online by visiting either the Cook County Assessor’s website or the Cook County Property Tax Portal and searching by address. Make sure to view a photo of your home to ensure you capture the correct PIN.

Example: Searching for Ernest Hemingway’s boyhood home in Oak Park, located at 339 N. Oak Park Avenue, yields the PIN 16-07-105-030-0000.

Ernest Hemingway's Home in Oak Park Ernest Hemingway's Home in Oak Park

Step 2 - Visit Our Website and Locate the Search Portal

Go to cookcountyclerk.com/SearchRecordings using your web browser. Once on our search page, click the link to go to the Clerk's Recordings Search portal.

Step 3 - Enter Your PIN

On the search portal's top section, enter your PIN for the property and click "Full Search."

Using Hemingway's Home's sample PIN, the search results will look like this:

[Image: search results]

If you prefer to search by document number or other available queries, click the "Advanced Search" button.

Step 4: Review Your Chain of Title for Irregularities

In the search results, recorded documents appear in reverse chronological order, with the newest recordings listed first. Each document has a unique Document Number, and you can view a summary of each document for free. Note that downloading the actual document incurs a fee. Online records are available from 1985 onwards. For older documents, please visit one of the Clerk's Office locations.

When you assume property ownership, a deed (usually a Warranty Deed) establishes your ownership as the grantee. If you financed the purchase with a mortgage, the mortgage will be recorded above the deed, identifying you as the owner (grantor) and the lender (grantee). Once the mortgage is paid off, a Release will be recorded, absolving you of the mortgage's terms. An Assignment typically indicates that the lender sold their interest in the mortgage to a third party.

If a creditor or government agency obtains a judgment for unpaid debts or fines, a lien will be filed. If you come across a lien that you have no knowledge of, it could be a sign of fraud against your title. A Lis Pendens document indicates that the property is subject to a lawsuit, often a foreclosure.

What Should and Shouldn't Be There

In addition to your Deed and corresponding mortgages, the following documents can be considered legitimate and routine throughout the title history:

  • Documents prepared and recorded by governmental agencies, such as weed liens, building code violations, tax deferral liens, and public aid liens.
  • Documents prepared and recorded by property owners or their attorneys, including deeds into living trusts or land trusts, warranty deeds from property purchases, quit claim deeds, deceased joint affidavits, and contracts for the sale of property.
  • Documents prepared and recorded by mortgage lenders, such as mortgages, trust deeds, financing statements, assignments of mortgages, notices of foreclosure, releases of mortgages, and amendments or modifications of mortgages.
  • Documents prepared and recorded by contractors, subcontractors, or property management, such as contracts, mechanic's liens, releases of mechanic's liens, condo association liens, condo declarations or amendments, and homeowners association liens.
  • Documents prepared and recorded by other types of lienholders, including brokers' liens and attorneys' liens.
  • Documents issued and recorded by courts, such as judgments involving real estate, foreclosures, divorces, bankruptcies, and suits to quiet title.

On the other hand, there are certain indicators or hallmarks of potentially fraudulent documents:

  • Deeds that the property owner or their attorney did not prepare or sign.
  • Loans that the property owner did not apply for or obtain.
  • Contractor or subcontractor liens without any record of work being performed.
  • Liens from real estate brokers or attorneys where no services were provided.
  • Court documents unrelated to the property owner or the property itself.

Here are some common terms and document names you might encounter and their meanings:

[Image: document names]

(An attorney should be consulted to determine the best way to utilize these instruments and how they may affect ownership rights.)

Report Suspected Fraud or Seek Guidance

If you suspect fraud or have questions about a suspicious recording, please reach out to our Property Fraud Unit. We are here to help ensure the security of your property.

Remember, protecting your property starts with vigilance. By regularly reviewing your chain of title and utilizing our FREE Property Fraud Alert service, you can safeguard your ownership rights and maintain peace of mind.