March 18 2013 12:00 AM

Ingham County Register of Deeds launches series of town hall meetings: ‘There is enough fraud to go through my office for 10 years and then some’

Thursday, July 21 — Imagine coming home to find your locks have been changed and your belongings now line the shelves of local thrift stores. Or that you and your family are being evicted from your home, even though you’ve paid your mortgage and kept an open line of communication with your bank.

These are horror stories that Ingham County Register of Deeds Curtis Hertel Jr. hears on a daily basis. Helping Ingham County residents keep their homes has become his top priority.

“There is enough fraud to go through my office for 10 years and then some,” Hertel told a crowd of residents Tuesday night. “We won’t stop until we get some justice for you guys.”

Hosting a series of town hall meetings to help residents understand the ins and outs of foreclosure fraud, Hertel spoke at the Cristo Rey Community Center, 1717 N. High St. in Lansing, on Tuesday.

“The only thing I can do is tell law enforcement and come back into the community and tell (the people) what I’ve found,” he said.

More than 17,000 homes have been foreclosed on or are in foreclosure in Michigan according to the nationwide foreclosure-listing website, And banks are using suspicious strategies such as robo-signing — the process of forging signatures or rapidly signing documents without reading them — to expedite the increase.

“In Michigan, you can lose your home without seeing a judge or stepping into a courtroom,” Hertel said. “We need to make sure the banks are actively working with people to get modifications.”

After taking office in 2009, Hertel set up the Property Fraud Alert system, a free service that notifies county residents when their names appear on any property documents. Earlier this year, he launched a series of investigations into alleged foreclosure frauds in Ingham County that took place over the past decade.

By breaking down the complexity of loan documents, mortgage payments and the stress of losing a home during these town-hall meetings, Hertel is arming residents with the knowledge they need to fight for their property.

Banks keep 10 percent of their loans and sell the rest to Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, which track the ownership and transfers of mortgages from one service to another for management purposes, Hertel said. From there, the loans are sent to “foreclosure mills” such as Metro Detroit law firms like Trott & Trott and Orlans Associates. With so many managing organizations, mistakes are not corrected and financial modifications with a bank might not get to the mills before the eviction is processed.

“We say the banks are too big to fail,” Hertel said. “They’re too big to run.”

Martha Miles, the community outreach coordinator at the Register of Deeds Office, does everything can to keep residents in their homes, even though some are too embarrassed or ashamed to seek help, she said.

“We have to talk to (the residents) and let them know that they have options for their families and that these are their homes – they need them,” she said.

While strides are being made to fight illegal foreclosures, many people find trouble by missing only two or three mortgage payments. But help is out there, Hertel said.

“Respond to every piece of mail from your (lender),” he said. “Always work to make sure that they know that you are someone who wants to keep their home.”

Future meetings are scheduled over the next few months in East Lansing, Mason, Leslie, Okemos and Webberville.