Macomb County, Michigan develops real estate fraud detection tool, data search standard


In 2011, the news program “60 Minutes” did a full length expose on real estate fraud happening in the housing market in and around the real estate crisis. In that piece, evidence showed that financial services firms, caught up in a web of poor or lost mortgage paperwork in the wake of 2008, have sometimes turned to fraud in an effort to save themselves from taking a bigger loss. Banks and loan servicers have forged documents or misrepresented disclosures in an effort to unwind bad investments. On the local government side, these activities leave municipal and county officials caught in the middle of having to find and verify the accuracy of all the paperwork on both the homeowner and loan.

Enter the SuperIndex. In Macomb County, Michigan, officials there were tasked with trying to figure out just what was happening in their housing market, and which documents were both real and present.

“The deeds office is tasked with being the keeper of public records, and we are tasked with supporting homeownership,” explains Todd Schmitz, Chief Deputy Clerk, Macomb County in an interview with CivSource. Officials there understood the often laborious process of physically finding, moving and verifying documents about homes, and wanted to make the records as searchable and easy to use as possible.

Through the county’s relationship with Xerox and Google, Macomb County developed the SuperIndex, a search tool for county residents to get information about a home they may be looking at buying, or even their own. The SuperIndex puts real estate deeds, court docket entries, and other information online for users and attorneys to access. They can also receive PDF copies of documents online after paying for them with Google Checkout.

Schmitz explains that the county first approached Xerox about making real estate transactions easier and more searchable as Xerox already has some fraud detection solutions available as part of its other lines of service. Through those conversations, Xerox brought in Google to partner on building the search technology behind the SuperIndex.

“I think this could really change the way public records are searched, as it creates a standard for dealing with this type of data,” he says. Right now, each county in Michigan handles its real estate documentation and transactions differently. As such, further implementation locally will have to happen on a county-by-county basis, but both the vendor companies and county officials, feel that the core of this technology could be widely applicable.

According to Bert Auburn, vice president, government records management, Xerox, the company is already in early stage conversations with other counties about deploying similar solutions. Future feature enhancements, like bringing in the Xerox fraud alert technology are also in the pipeline.

“Ideally, in the future, someone could go into a real estate transaction with a full record of documents about a property, even those recorded just 24 hours earlier, maybe even from their smart phone, so they can make an educated decision,” Schmitz said.

The county has created a video chronicling their approach:

The “60 Minutes” expose: