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Home title fraud occurs when someone alters the ownership of a property title or deed by putting their name on it.
An involuntary transfer of property ownership can then occur without the true owner’s consent or knowledge. Sounds outlandish, right? But it’s more common than you think. And it can cost plenty in terms of dollars, time, and credit damage. In this article, we will share some important facts about real estate title fraud along with professional advice to keep you from becoming a victim.
How does home title fraud happen?
Property ownership is typically proven by a legal document known as a deed. The deed is sent to the county’s clerk of courts and recorded in the public records of the county where the property is located. In many states, for a deed to be recorded, it must be signed by the seller (also called the grantor), two witnesses, and a notary. The court clerk verifies that these legal formalities are met; however, they are not responsible for contacting the seller and buyer, or for confirming that the transaction was voluntary and legal. In other words, just because a deed is recorded in the public records doesn’t mean it’s accurate.
Home title fraud is essentially a forged deed. The perpetrators sign the true owner’s name to a deed as the grantor. They then get the fraudulent signature notarized and witnessed and sent on to the county recorder. The new grantee is placed on the new deed to the property, showing them as the owner in the county public records. And that’s where the danger lies. The deed-fraud perpetrator can now attempt to sell the property to another party or obtain loans using the property as collateral because public records now reflect their name on the title.
Are you at risk?
Anyone who doesn’t regularly monitor their property can fall victim to home title fraud. Seniors and victims of identity theft are particularly vulnerable. Those with second homes, vacation homes, foreign real estate investors, and inheritors of a deceased person’s estate can become victims. Individuals who don’t practice rigorous cybersecurity measures are also at risk. Phishing emails are a common way criminals obtain personal information like social security numbers and passwords from homeowners. Armed with that information, the perpetrator can readily pose as the rightful owner.
Protect yourself from home title fraud by following these best practices:
- Be very careful with emails. Don’t click on links or open attachments within suspicious emails. Never provide personal information over email, and be sure to verify the sender of any emails you receive that require the transfer of information.
- Create strong passwords. Avoid easy-to-guess passwords such as your date of birth. And be sure to change the passwords for all of your online accounts every few months.
- Monitor your credit. Once per year, you can get a free copy of your credit report from the three major credit reporting companies. Visit http://www.annualcreditreport.com to learn more or to place your request.
- Verify your property ownership. It’s wise to make regular inquiries on your county property appraiser’s and county tax collector’s websites to confirm that you remain the owner of record.
- Physically monitor your property. Visit and check on your home regularly. If you have a vacation home or second home that’s far away, ask a trusted friend or family member in the area to check on it every so often. They should ensure that there is no activity or persons on the property that are not permitted and that there is no for sale sign posted.
- Exercise caution with your signature. Be wary of anyone requesting that you sign documents or instruments you’re unsure about. Read all contracts and documents carefully and don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you have doubts, seek advice from a real estate professional or an attorney.
Title theft is serious. Getting the problem resolved can be difficult and costly, and victims may even lose their homes. Learn the facts and take the necessary steps to avoid falling prey to home title scammers.
Certified Title’s cutting-edge technology and robust security measures are the foundation of how we do business. To learn more about Certified and how we can benefit your real estate transactions, please contact us anytime.
About Certified Title Corporation: Since 1994, attorney-owned Certified Title Corporation has been furnishing residential and commercial real estate stakeholders across the nation with robust title insurance, settlement, and escrow services. Renowned for industry-leading reliability and an exemplary level of service and quality, the Maryland-based company helps clients from all walks of life achieve their asset goals. To learn more, call (888)486-5511 or visit https://www.certifiedtitlecorp.com/.