In 2008, the FBI warned homeowners about home title theft. As per the FBI, the scam combines identity theft and mortgage fraud and usually happens in three steps:
- Scamsters find a home they want to target
- They steal the identity of the legitimate owner of the property by creating forged documentation
- They transfer the home title to their name by forging the property owner’s signature and using fake witnesses
Unfortunately, home title theft is still prevalent today. We estimate as many as 10,000 home title theft claims are made every year in the United States.
Here we answer some of the frequently asked questions on home title theft:
How to spot home title theft?
There are several warning signs of title fraud. These include:
- You receive a notice for unpaid bills such as mortgage bills, water bills, or real estate tax bills
- You receive a notice of foreclosure despite always paying on time
- You receive notices from lenders you don’t recognize
- You discover someone else is living in your unoccupied home or vacation property
- You receive new loans or lines of credit in your name
- You see a stranger’s name on property tax documents
Who is at risk for home title theft or property forgery crime?
Seniors are particularly vulnerable to home title theft as they have a large amount of equity in their home or they own their home free and clear of mortgage. Unfortunately, many seniors are less comfortable with technology – as a result they are vulnerable to cyber crimes such as phishing and pharming. Owners of vacant properties or vacation homes are also vulnerable to home title theft.
How are forged deeds created?
Scamsters can easily access online property data from public records. They can gain access to important information such as homeowner’s identity, home equity, primary address, and example of homeowner’s signature. To commit home title theft, they trick the notary, skip the notary, or use undue influence on the homeowner. Here’s a useful read on how con artists commit home title theft to help homeowners understand the details of the crime.
How to avoid home title theft?
- Monitor your title history with a premier home title theft protection company like TitleShield™:
We monitor our customers’ home titles for any changes to ownership, bankruptcies, foreclosure activity, property tax delinquencies, and more. If any of these items appear in the title records of the properties we monitor, we notify our customers immediately. Know more about our 5-star home title theft protection process here.
Guard your personal information:
- Your Social Security Number (SSN) is used to verify your identity and it should be carefully safeguarded. A few organizations have the authority to demand your SSN, such as tax departments, motor vehicle departments, banks, brokerage houses, insurance companies, welfare departments, and your employer. If a business requests your SSN, ask them why they need it, what they plan to do with it, and how they’ll keep it safe. Don’t give out your SSN in unsolicited calls or emails. When your SSN is stolen, it can be used by identity thieves to obtain driver’s licenses, open new credit accounts, file fraudulent taxes, or even transfer the home title from your name to their name.
- Check your credit report regularly. An identity thief can misuse your SSN to open a new credit card account with a fake address and phone number. You may not find out about the new account until the damage is long done—unless you check your credit report regularly.
- Protect your mail. Your mailbox contains checks, credit cards, financial statements, and a host of other important documents. For this reason, your mailbox is a highly prized target for identity thieves. To prevent theft from your mailbox, you can install a mailbox with a lock, install a CCTV near your mailbox, or install a mail alert system. Also, collect your mail daily. If you leave your mailbox full for a longer period of time, they may end up in the hands of a scammer.
Watch out for missing bills or financial statements:
Pay particular attention to your billing cycles. Contact your creditors if your bills don’t arrive on time. A missing bill could be a warning sign of identity theft. Criminals can open new accounts on your name and change the billing address to cover their tracks. If you miss these bills, you could miss foreclosure notices too.
Does title insurance policy protect your home from title theft?
A title insurance policy protects the homeowner title defects that existed BEFORE they purchased the property such as back taxes and liens. It does not monitor the home title for fraud AFTER they purchase it.
To get a fraudulent deed off the title history of your house, you will have to hire a lawyer to file a type of lawsuit called a Quiet Title Action. “Cleansing” of title and ownership records is a lengthy one – as it could take anywhere from several months to several years. Hence, it’s important for homeowners to monitor their home titles frequently. If you’re a homeowner and planning to subscribe to a title monitoring service, call us at (818) 268-5929.