You go to great lengths to protect your valuable property. You keep it locked. Install CCTV cameras. Heck, even your dog becomes a self-designated guard of your house. But what do you do when wily thieves don’t even have to set foot in your property to steal everything in it—possibly, CCTV, and dog included?
As unimaginable as that scenario might seem, it can happen. It has happened. Crooks only have to devise and execute one of these elaborate home title scams. Here are different ways the scheme can play out.
Identity Fraud to Commit Home Title Scams
One of the most common ways a thief can hold your house hostage is by forging your signature on the deed. The deed is a legal document that transfers the ownership of a property from the seller to the buyer.
Once the thief has the deed with your forged signature, they can file it with the county clerk-recorder, effectively gaining ownership of the property. This sort of scam is only effective on properties that are not mortgaged. Mortgaged properties have the lender listed on the deed. Thus, when you try to sell a mortgaged house, it has to have the lender’s approval or you must pay off the remaining balance first. This arrangement makes it harder for scammers to commit home title fraud.
Thieves who have successfully pulled off these home title scams will sell or rent out the property. And you’ll be left unable to sell, rent, or do anything with the property until you sort this mess out with a lawyer.
Vacant House Nightmare
Aside from non-mortgaged properties, criminals can also carry out fraud more easily with vacant properties like vacation homes. If you have a second or third property and no one’s regularly monitoring it, it could be an easy target for home title scams. Once the deed is in their name, unscrupulous individuals could easily rent it out or sell it off to another unsuspecting victim.
If you own an unoccupied property, it’s best to keep in contact with a neighbor or two. Or if that’s not possible, you can install security cameras. Otherwise, you might just get the surprise of your life when you visit the property only to find out there’s another owner setting up camp.
Think “I Care a Lot”
The movie “I Care a Lot” tells the story of a con artist who uses the legal system to take guardianship of seniors. Once she gains court approval, she commits the seniors to an assisted living facility, takes control of their homes and other assets, and sells them off.
While the story might be farfetched, it depicts the vulnerability of seniors to various home title scams. Seniors most likely have more equity in their homes. Plus, most transactions are done online these days, and the elderly are not usually tech-savvy. They likely won’t be able to tell the difference between legit and phishing sites, making them more at risk of identity theft and home title scams.
In addition, seniors who live alone are the easiest targets of this scheme. Criminals could either forge their signature or get the unsuspecting elderly owner to sign a document transferring ownership of their house, making them think it’s just another ordinary document.
Telltale Signs That Scream Home Title Scams
You may shudder to think what happens should you fall victim to one of these home title scams. And while just the thought of it is pretty scary, it helps to be aware of the red flags of this type of fraud before things get more problematic for you.
Bills Go Missing
Sure, nobody really likes seeing their bills month in and out. But in this case, you should. Missing bills are a cause for worry as criminals usually divert everything that came in the mail to cover home title scams for as long as possible.
Even worse, if the names on those bills no longer reflect your name and you keep getting mail for another person, it might be time to visit your local police to get to the bottom of it. There’s always that chance that it could be a harmless mistake, but you shouldn’t take missing bills lightly. After all, your property could be on the line.
Your Credit Score Takes a Nosedive
When fraudsters take out home loans with your equity as collateral, they take big paydays and leave you to deal with the payments. Since you don’t know that someone took out a loan by committing identity theft, you may not be making payments on the loan. And you’ll get the biggest shock of your life when the lender comes knocking with a foreclosure notice.
Of course, you can always assert your right since you’re really under no obligation to repay the loan. But monitoring your credit score regularly is much less of a headache than cleaning up the mess of identity theft.
Suspicious Activities on Vacant Property
If you own another property that’s currently unoccupied, don’t ignore even the slightest sign that other people might have moved in. You might hear rumors from acquaintances or neighbors. If so, always take time to check them out. In this case, you’d rather chalk up those rumors as nothing but ghost stories than deal with the actual nightmare of someone taking ownership of your property.
What to Do When You Become a Victim of Home Title Scams
Take heart! All’s not lost when you become a victim of one of those home title scams. Here are practical steps you can take to mitigate the harmful effects of the scam.
- Call the bank or lender, as there may still be ample time to freeze the funds.
- Call the county clerk-recorder and present proof of ownership like a deed, mortgage, or other supporting documents.
- Report the fraud to the local police and the FBI.
- Contact a lawyer who has experience in dealing with title litigation and this type of fraud. They can assist you with the legal steps to take, especially if there are other aggrieved parties involved.
What If You’re a Home Buyer? How Do You Protect Yourself?
If you’re a home buyer and you want to protect your investment against home title scams, you need to buy a homeowner’s title insurance. For one, title insurance companies will do the grunt work of making sure there are no other claims to the property before they issue the insurance.
On the off chance that home title fraud has been committed or there are other liens, mortgages, or other encumbrances claimed against the property, the insurance will protect you from any loss or damages arising from this situation.
Need help in making the closing process go as smoothly as possible? LemonBrew Abstract can make this possible for you. We have revolutionary and cutting-edge technology to make the closing experience seamless and convenient. With our title insurance and escrow services, you can sit back and just enjoy the process. Contact us today and talk with one of our trained team members who can assist you every step of the way.