The first case of a home title theft scheme was recorded by the FBI sometime in 2008. It was, at that time, referred to as house stealing. Through the years, such cases have significantly grown and now involve hundreds of dollars. From $56 million worth of internet crime involving real estate in 2017 to a whopping $547 million in 2020.
Falling victim to home title theft is probably one of a homeowner’s worst nightmares. It is, therefore, crucial for you to have security measures in place. It will also greatly help to keep yourself up-to-date with the ways in how a criminal steals your identity and your property.
What is Home Title Theft?
Home title theft is also referred to as home title fraud, deed theft, or deed fraud. It pertains to the process of fraudulently transferring someone’s house or property deed into another person’s name.
Home title theft usually occurs by way of identity theft- someone steals your identity, uses it to forge a deed to make it look like they’re the property owner, and then sells the property. Here are other ways that criminals go about fraudulent acts.
- Refinance your mortgage, cash out the equity, and then walk away with the difference. Moreover, since they obviously won’t pay the new mortgage, you’ll most likely be facing foreclosure.
- Open a home equity line of credit (HELOC) in your name, take out the equity on your home, and walk away from the payment.
- Use forged deeds on empty homes, vacation homes, or even rental properties, and sell the property.
- Con artists also target homeowners, especially seniors, in financial crisis with a “refinancing” offer. As part of the process, the deal will be documented as an actual home sale which effectively transfers ownership to the con artist or thief.
Home title theft brings a whole lot of headaches, from legal fees to clear the title to great anxiety and fear of actually losing your home.
How Does Home Title Theft Occur?
If you are a victim of home title theft, you are most likely also a victim of identity theft. A great chunk of home title theft cases involve fraudsters, particularly cybercriminals. Here are some of the most common ways that criminals steal your identity then eventually steal your real estate property.
Cybercriminals will send fraudulent emails or texts that might contain links. Clicking on such links could lead to the download of malware into your computer or phone. The malware will then mine your system for personal information that will be used for malicious activities such as home title theft.
Take note that some phishing scams will directly ask for sensitive information in the guise of a trusted source, such as your bank, network service provider, or government agencies.
- WiFi Hacking
Hackers often take advantage of unsecured WiFi connections to intercept data or even inject malware into your device. Again this might allow them to steal your identity and perpetuate a scam that might leave you homeless.
- Phone Scams
This is one of the more rampant forms of scam that often target less tech-savvy individuals. This scam has many types; one of the more common routes of fraudsters is pretending to be from your bank or the IRS. Please take note that banks, government agencies, or any other legitimate company will usually contact you via mail or email and will not exactly ask you to divulge sensitive information via phone calls. If you are receiving calls from an unknown phone number, Kiwi Searches is a great tool to utilize to find out who it is.
- Mail Theft
There are people who would sift through your emails or even your thrash in the hopes of finding something that might have your personal information. They often target electricity or water bills, statements from banks or credit cards that contain your account number, or even tax forms that contain your Social Security number.
Make sure to secure your mailbox, promptly pick up your mail, and shred mail or other documents containing sensitive information before throwing them out.
What to Do If You Fall Victim to Home Title Fraud?
There are things that could tip you off about your home title is in jeopardy. Here are some of them:
- You stopped receiving bills.
- You see rising utility bills in vacant or second properties.
- You stopped receiving payment from your tenants.
- You receive foreclosure notifications.
- You are contacted by lending companies you’ve never done business with.
- You receive notifications about suspicious loans or new lines of credit.
If you think something is amiss, or if home title fraud occurs, follow the FTC guidelines and:
- Contact the companies where you believe an instance of fraud occurred.
- Place a fraud alert with credit bureaus and get copies of your credit report.
- Report identity theft to the FTC.
- File a report with your local police department.
How to Protect Yourself from Home Title Fraud?
Fraudsters can target anyone, even you. To avoid becoming one of the statistics, remain vigilant and take measures to protect yourself from home title theft. Here are some ways to do that.
- Monitor your Property Regularly and Keep Close Tabs of Important Documents
Aside from your home, vacation homes or second homes as well as properties that remain vacant are highly susceptible to home title theft. Make sure to physically monitor your properties or at least have a trusted person do it for you. You should also periodically verify your house’s information at your local assessor’s office. It would also help to regularly review your credit reports.
- Finesse Your Security Practices
This encompasses several things, especially in connection to keeping your home title secure.
- Always use strong passwords and avoid clicking on suspicious links.
- Never divulge sensitive information over the phone or via other unsecured channels.
- Consider using title monitoring title protection services for added home title protection. Such services will notify you of any activity regarding your home title at the recorder’s office.
- Check whether the title company is licensed when you are purchasing a property.
- Make sure that you have an owner’s title insurance after you purchase a property.