You may be reading this post because you received a postcard in the mail from our office notifying you of a Quitclaim Deed filed against your property, which can be an indicator of fraud. Or you may have heard about our FREE Property Fraud Alert and want to verify that your title is clear before signing up.
Whatever your reason, this post will explain step-by-step how to look up your chain of title in our public database and review it for recordings that should not be there.
Even though the deed was conveyed to you when you purchased the home, and was likely warranted to be free and clear of outstanding liens or claims at that time, there is nothing to prevent a scammer from filing a false claim on top of your legitimate deed after closing and finalization of the conveyance.
This is because county recorders are not authorized by law to verify the legal claims made in documents.
Even if you paid off your mortgage and hold proof of such, fraudulent or misfiled claims or encumbrances can affect your ability to sell, refinance, or pass your home on to your heirs.
In fact, the only way to know your title is clean is to regularly inspect your “chain of title,” or more easily, to sign up for our FREE Property Fraud Alert, which automates this process by checking our database each day and notifying you by phone or email whenever any document is recorded against your property’s 14-digit Property Index Number (PIN).
Please note that the Clerk's Office is not authorized to give legal advice, nor should this information be considered legal advice. Though we are happy to help you if you should suspect fraud, you should always consult an attorney before making decisions that could impact any ownership interest in the property.
How to Check Your Deed
Step 1 – Locate Your PIN: Your PIN is the 14-digit number found on your property tax bill from the County Treasurer. If you don’t have this 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. Note: make sure to view a photo of your home to ensure you capture the correct PIN.
Example: Searching using Ernest Hemingway’s boyhood home in Oak Park, 339 N. Oak Park Avenue, Oak Park, yields the PIN 16-07-105-030-0000
Step 3 – Enter Your PIN: Across the top of our Search Portal will be a horizontal search field that defaults to PIN search. You will see five input boxes followed by buttons that say “Search” “Reset” or “Advanced.” Here you will enter the PIN for your property, then click “Search.”
By using our sample PIN for Hemingway’s Home, we get the following results:
If you would like to search by document number, or any of the other available queries, click on the “Search Criteria” dropdown on the top left of your screen.
Step 4: Review Your Chain of Title for Irregularities: Using the image above, you will see that recorded documents appear in reverse chronological order, newest recordings first. Each document has a unique Document Number, and you can view a summary of each document for free (downloading the actual document will incur a fee). Online records only go back to 1985. To view older documents, please visit one of the Clerk's Office locations.
Generally, when you take over ownership of a property, a deed (usually a Warranty Deed) will first be filed, establishing your ownership (the grantee on a deed is the new owner). If you took out a mortgage to finance the purchase, the mortgage will then be recorded above the deed and will identify the owner (grantor) and the lender (grantee). If the mortgage is paid off or otherwise satisfied with the lender, a Release will then be recorded, releasing the owner of the terms of the mortgage. An Assignment generally means the lender sold their interest in the mortgage to a third party.
If a creditor (such as a lender or contractor) or government agency receives a judgment for unpaid debts or fines, a lien will be filed. If you see a lien of which you have no knowledge, this could be a sign of fraud against your title. A Lis Pendens document means that the property is subject to a lawsuit, most likely a foreclosure.
What Should & Shouldn’t Be There
In addition to your Deed and corresponding mortgages, if applicable:
Legitimate documents routinely found throughout the title history of real property.
- Documents prepared and recorded by governmental agencies – Examples: weed liens, building code violations, tax deferral liens, utility or railroad easement, annexation, alleyway vacations, public aid lien, federal anti-terrorism lien
- Documents prepared and recorded by the property owner (or their attorney) – Examples: deed into living trust or land trust, warranty deed from property purchase, quit claim deed, deceased joint affidavit, transfer on death instrument, contract for sale of property
- Documents prepared and recorded by the mortgage lender of the property owner – Examples: mortgage, trust deed, financing statement, assignment of mortgage, Notice of Foreclosure, release of mortgage, amendment or modification of mortgage, deed in lieu of foreclosure
- Documents prepared and recorded by contractors and subcontractors performing work on the owner’s property – Examples: contract, mechanic’s lien, release of mechanic’s lien
- Documents prepared and recorded by owner’s property management – Examples: condo association liens, condo declarations or amendments, homeowners association liens,
- Documents prepared and recorded by other types of lienholders generally – Examples: brokers lien, attorneys lien,
- Documents issued and recorded from Court – Examples: judgments involving real estate including foreclosure, divorce, bankruptcy, suit to quiet title.
Documents that may be fraud have certain indicators or hallmarks.
Some examples include:
- Deeds that the property owner (or their attorney) did not prepare or sign. Deeds (other than judicial sales) normally require the owner’s knowledge, participation or consent.
- Loans the property owner did not apply for and obtain. Loan documents recorded by a lending company or financial institution can range from a mortgage to a simple credit line, require the owner’s knowledge, participation or consent.
- Contractor or subcontractor Liens when no contractor was ever contacted/hired to perform work. But note that contractor or subcontractor lien arising when a dispute occurs between the property owner and the party performing the construction work or maintenance services, or material suppliers is not a matter of fraud, but more a matter to be resolved in court.
- Other types of lienholders where no services were provided, such as real estate brokers, or attorneys.
- Court documents that have nothing to do with the property owner or the property itself.
Below are some common terms and document names that you might find, and what they mean:
(An attorney should be consulted for determination of how best to utilize these instruments and how they may affect ownership rights.)
- Assignment of beneficial interest in land trust (document) transfers the interests of a beneficiary under a trust agreement to another party.
- Assignment of a Mortgage (document) is signed by the mortgagee/lender, which transfers and assigns for a fee, the mortgage debt to a new lender. The new lender under the assignment then becomes solely responsible for collection on the mortgage from the borrower, releasing the assigning lender.
- Assignment of Rents (document) supplements a mortgage loan or trust deed, agreeing that if the loan debt goes into default (example; not being paid), all income from the property (rents, leases) is assigned to the lender.
- Affidavit (document) is a sworn statement, signed and notarized, holding it out to be the truth of some matter.
- Agreement for Deed (document) is an agreement between a seller and buyer concerning real estate, somewhat similar to a real estate sales contract or installment agreement to purchase property.
- Certificate of Purchase (document) is issued to a successful bidder at an auction and prepared by the County Clerk.
- Certificate of Redemption (document) is issued to a property owner who is successful in stopping a sale/auction of their property by redeeming back-taxes and property, thereby causing ownership to remain in the owner’s name.
- Certificate of Sale (document) is issued to the highest bidder at a foreclosure sale, prepared most often by the Sheriff (or a Judicial Sale Corp.)
- Sheriff’s Deed (document) is issued by the Sheriff of Cook County transferring ownership to a successful bidder at an auction held by the Sheriff. The auction usually is from a foreclosure court case or a creditor’s levy case.
- Trustee’s Deed (document) is issued from a Trustee of a land trust or living trust, transferring real estate out of the trust to another person or even to another Trust.
- Judge’s Deed (document) is issued from a Judge in a court case where the owner of the property is unable, unavailable or refuses to sign the deed. (For example; a divorce.)
- Deed in Trust (document) transfers real estate into a land trust or living trust and it conveys title to the property to a named trustee to hold on behalf of a beneficiary under a usually unrecorded trust agreement.
- Deed in Lieu of Foreclosure (document) is a deed given by the property owner of the mortgaged property to the lender as a means to avoid a foreclosure.
- Executor’s Deed (document) (Similar to Administrator’s Deed) is a deed transferring real property, issued in a probate case and signed by the Executor (under a Will) or an Administrator (appointed by the court).
- Lien The most common lien (document) is a (statutory) Mechanic’s Lien, but other liens exist as well such as Attorney’s liens & Broker’s Liens, etc. These liens often involve unpaid services, labor, materials, etc., provided by the party recording the lien to their client/customer/property owner/or other contractor in an attempt to seek payment.
- Lis Pendens Notice (document) is a notice to the public that the named person or property is the subject of a pending lawsuit.
- Mortgage (document) is most commonly used to create a lien on property. It is secured by the real estate pledged for the loan by the property owner.
- Quit Claim Deed (document) is a deed issued from a party, transferring any and all interest that they may have in a particular property but does not give warranty as to anything.
- Release of Mortgage (document) also known as Release Deed, Satisfaction of Mortgage, Discharge of Mortgage, releases the lender’s mortgage or trust deed lien upon the secured property as well as releases the borrower.
- Subordination (document) is used to change the priority of liens in the chain of title in the event of a foreclosure. (Example; One lien holder (mortgage,etc.) can agree with another lien holder for whatever reason they decide, to switch places in the chain of title so that if a foreclosure were to occur, one or the other would get paid first if funds were available but limited.)
- Trust Deed (document) is similar to a mortgage, but the difference is that the property owner conveys title to the property to the trustee/lender to hold for the benefit of the owner. By conveying title to the trustee/lender, the property is used to secure the loan.
- The Cook County Clerk issues Tax Deeds (document) to a successful bidder at an auction held by the Clerk. The auction is usually from a sale of unpaid Real Estate property taxes, etc.
- Special Warranty Deed (document) is a deed issued to a buyer which is used to convey an interest in real estate, but where the grantor does not warrant against the defects arising from conditions that existed before he/she owned the property.
- Warranty Deed (document) is a deed issued to a buyer. The General Warranty Deed provides the highest level of protection for the buyer.