Benchmark Title Company, LLC


The Title Tip of the Week this week focuses on identifying and preventing fraud in real estate transactions, and the steps we at Benchmark take to minimize the risk of fraud harming one of our customers or creating a title claim.

Fraud in Real Estate Transactions

by John Howe, President

How serious is it?

The FBI's statistics for 2006 indicate there were 818 cases of mortgage fraud up from 436 cases in 2003.  Of those 818, 33% were in the Central Region of the U.S., with Illinois and Missouri listed in the top ten states in the nation for mortgage fraud activity.

What can you do to assist in the prevention of fraud in our industry?

We, at Benchmark Title, before any closing occurs, require that the parties to the transaction provide us with a photo ID along with one other form of ID in order for us to feel comfortable that we are providing service to the correct people.  A forger may provide a very convincing fake drivers license, but many don't go further and prepare additional false identification.  This is a protection for all of the parties to the transaction: seller, buyer, Realtor, lender and the title company.  After 35 years in the title business I could tell you many tales of fraud that I have personally encountered.  And just that simple exercise of getting additional proper ID can help to prevent a fraudulent transaction from hurting any of the parties.

For you Realtors, it is not such a bad idea for you to request that same identification information for your file.  Identifying a party to a fraud, or any other kind of crime in your business is a lot easier if you have the appropriate information in your file before you even show or list a property.

Regularly we receive notices of fraudulent cashiers or certified checks being used in real estate closings all over the state.  Often times it is due to the theft of a full case of checks while in shipment from the printer to the bank, but occassionally it's as simple as a washed and reprinted check.  When we get notices of any of this in the local area we call the bank to confirm that the check we have is a valid check.  This is not a case of mistrust of your clients, but rather a case of protecting all parties to the transaction.

Another issue we deal with is forgery.  The existence of forged documents is an inherent risk of title insurance.  However in some cases, the risk can be reduced or prevented.  We will often check signatures on various documents against prior documents we may have in our file from an earlier transaction, or by checking copies of documents already in the public record, e.g.: comparing the signature on the new deed against the signature on the prior mortgage.  Our people are trained to spot what we refer to as the "Red Flags of Forgery".  Believe it or not, forgery is a covered item on your title insurance policy.

Look for a list of the "Red Flags of Forgery" in a future Title Tip of the Week Newsletter.

 Any questions can be directed to Benchmark Title at 618-239-3750. Please feel free to call or email: 

John Howe

Doreen Miller, Esq.
Commercial Division Manager

Sarah Holdener, Esq.
General Counsel,
VP Production

Michelle Null
VP Escrow Operations

Serving you from three convenient locations:

Main Office:
1124 Hartman Lane
Shiloh, IL 62221
Ph: 618-239-3750
Escrow Fax: 618-239-3707
Title Fax: 618-239-3757
Fax Orders: 618-310-1589
President: John Howe

318 North Main St.
Columbia, IL 62236
Ph: 618-281-9700
Fax: 618-281-9705
Manager: Randi Schur

4215 S. State Rte 159
Glen Carbon, IL 62034
Ph: 618-288-1695
Fax: 618-288-1852
Manager: Sara Sowell

Upcoming Title Tips

Surveys on Commercial Property
Closing Protection Letters
Red Flags of Forgery

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Did you know that lenders and home buyers now receive their title policies at the closing table? Call Michelle Null , VP Escrow Operations, to learn more about this exciting new program.

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   Employee Spotlight

John Howe

 John Howe, President, has been working in the title insurance industry for 35 years.   Following eight years as a Realtor in Chicago, John took a job as a marketing rep. for a title company.  John became Illinois State Manager, then National Commercial Division Manager, and County Manager for DuPage County before becoming President of a title plant owned by a national title insurance company.  John transferred to the St. Louis region about 10 years ago where he served as President for two subsidiaries of a national title company before joining Benchmark Title Company in 2000.  John has overseen the company's growth from five employees in one office to twenty-five employees in three locations.  John resides in Wildwood, Missouri and has four children and seven grandchildren.  John can be reached at 618-239-3750 or by email at 


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