What if you have a judgment debtor with a non-common last name. What if public records show that they seem to own two houses? What if the public records show the same name as the owner of both houses, however the details about them are not exactly the same? What if their (perhaps truncated) dates of birth (DOB) and social security numbers (SSN) are not the same; however they are very close, too close to believe they are really separate people?
This article is my opinion, and not legal advice. I am a judgment referral expert, and am not a lawyer. If you ever need any legal advice or a strategy to use, please contact a lawyer.
There is a chance that this circumstance is just a coincidence, and there are two people with the same first, middle, and last names, with similar SSNs and DOBs that live in the same area. However, it is most likely the same person. Some judgment debtors use alternate SSNs regularly to attempt to thwart creditors.
How can you prove it is the same person (or perhaps not) so you can record liens or possibly take other enforcement actions? The problem with public record database search services is they are not perfect. They are great tools, however they are not the final word. Also, free web search tools such as Zillow are not a reliable way to verify property ownership.
Public information records are generally not admissible in court because they include several layers of hearsay, and it would be hard to get a witness to lay the proper foundation for admissibility. Another problem is the typos and errors that accumulate in public records. Even so, public databases can usually give you the answer, even if that answer is not admissible in court. One very good indicator would be if “both” people had the same address history and/or the same relatives.
A credit report might clear things up right away. If the judgment debtor is paying loans on both properties, that will tell you the answer for sure. However, you need permissible purpose to pull credit reports. You can only pull a credit report on someone if you are a collection agency, an attorney representing a creditor, or own a judgment against a person as the original judgment creditor or through an assignment of judgment.
Public databases help you determine where to pull records at the county recorder. What might show the real story, is the signatures on file for the properties. When the names are the same, and the signatures look the same, that means the person is probably the same.
Go to the county recorder, and pull copies of the deeds of trust, and anything else you can find; so you can get handwriting examples on this person or persons. You will want to look at prior properties owned, check for documents with signatures, see how the properties are held according to the assessor, and where and to who, the tax bills get mailed.
You could also write down the name(s) of the notary(s) before whom the deeds were acknowledged, then serve an open records act request on the notaries. Their log books are public records. You do not need a subpoena for a notary’s log book.
You could also see if “both” people went through the same mortgage company, perhaps with the same escrow. That would be another hint that this is not a coincidence. Also, look at who financed their loans. Look at the “GF Number” (guaranty file #) on the deed. This shows where you will need to subpoena the records. The mortgage company will have a file on each transaction, which will include an application for credit with lots of private financial information. You might also want to subpoena their title company because they have a file for each transaction.
The court file from the judgment itself might also hold clues to help you figure out if these are two different people. You may also want to do a judgment debtor exam on your debtor, to see what they say about what they own, which house they live in, etc. Of course, subpoenas to third parties can also get you access to other records.