If someone calls out of the blue and says he will make it so "you don't have to pay any more bills," odds are it's a scam. Homeowners, many of them senior citizens, facing foreclosure in predominately African American and Latino neighborhoods in Brooklyn and elsewhere are facing a growing threat from predatory fraudsters who make such promises, then trick their targets into signing over their houses. Sometimes, the scam artists don't even bother with the delicate dance of promises, phone calls, and office meetings, and they simply file fraudulent deed transfers, signing over properties to themselves for few or no dollars, and writing down fake addresses, illegible signatures, and generic-sounding LLC names to veil their identities.

The New York Times has a report on the practice this weekend. One of the paper's subjects, Ozella Campbell, 75, is in danger of being evicted from the unheated garage in Canarsie she says an alleged scammer named Arash Noghreh stuck her in after tricking her into signing over her two-story brownstone in Bedford-Stuyvesant. Campbell is partially paralyzed and got connected with Noghreh, who she knew only as "Alex," through TV commercials for the website myhouseisadump.com, which now appears to be down. She says Alex and associates promised to pay her mortgage (which she was behind on), house her for two years, and pay her $43,000.

Now Campbell has no house and owes $529,000 on her mortgage. Relatives' attempts to visit the office of the new owner, Jefferson Holding LLC, hit a dead end when their visit to its Great Neck address turned up no company by that name.

"He lied," Cambell told the Times. "He said, 'Don't worry, Mrs. Campbell, we're going to take care of you.'"

Nogreh was arrested in August on two counts of grand larceny and 28 counts of filing false paperwork. He denies the charges and his lawyer argues that his ties to the LLC aren't well enough established.

The city's Department of Finance says it is investigating 120 cases of deed theft, and as of August it was pursuing 1,000 leads, though in the Times article the number is down to 167. Gentrifying neighborhoods including Bushwick, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, and Prospect Lefferts Gardens seem to be preferred targets of deed thieves, in part because their spiking real estate values make it easy to flip stolen properties at great profits.

"I don't think anyone realizes how big this story is," Finance Department spokeswoman Sonia Alleyne said last month.

The tactics for actually obtaining the houses differ, but many theft rings seem to find their victims by searching legal notices for people behind on their mortgages, and pounce on properties that are abandoned, blighted, or home to old people. The Department of Finance's current system for filing property documents makes it easy to transfer a deed for anyone with access to a notary stamp, while reversing a fraudulent transfer can require lengthy legal proceedings.

A recent report by the Center for NYC Neighborhoods and Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law found that black and Hispanic homeowners are disproportionately affected by similar so-called "mortgage rescue" scams, where the perpetrators offer mortgage refinancing services, then collect payments without passing them on to the actual mortgage company. As black and Hispanic homeowners suffered massively greater losses during the 2008 housing crisis, according to the report they were also victimized by the rescue scams at higher rates, with African-Americans making up 30 percent of those affected in New York state, though they're just 8 percent of owners, and Latinos representing 20 percent of victims and just 6 percent of owners.

Legal Services NYC foreclosure prevention director Jen Sinton said rising home values and a continued foreclosure crisis make for a "perfect storm" of deed theft.

"It's definitely on the rise and we're going to be seeing more and more of it," Sinton told the Center for NYC Neighborhoods.

Limited liability companies, as the Times laid out early this year, only recently came to be used to veil property ownership, which in the U.S. has a centuries-long tradition of being public record. Last year, the city began requiring disclosure of LLCs' members when deeds are transferred, and further reforms have been proposed at the state level, including fingerprinting notaries. However, the city Department of Finance is now bizarrely opposing further LLC requirements, telling the Times the earlier tweak is doing enough.

The Times's list of victims and perpetrators goes on, and includes a sophisticated alleged theft ring called Homeowner Assistance Services of New York, which employed telemarketers to court prospective clients, and allegedly forged signatures on deed transfers after promising help with refinancing mortgages. Two purported victims, who lost their $2.8 million mixed-use building in Bed-Stuy, said the company paid to have them driven to and from meetings by car service. Three men from that company are now facing federal wire fraud charges.