Bombarded with all the issues relating to cybercrime and identity theft, many people find respite from these worries and many others in the comfort of their home. It’s a safe space where you can forget about external troubles and avoid the outside world, if only for a few quiet hours. Sure, caution is still necessary when browsing online on your couch, but larger, more tangible threats don’t always seem as likely. Few of us expect or prepare for the title of our home to be stolen and the ensuing problems this presents. But home title theft is possible and is something that you should be aware of to keep you and your family more safe and secure from external concerns.
Home Title Theft Defined
Home title theft does not involve someone sneaking into your file cabinet or safe deposit box and walking off with your deed. While that scenario is hypothetically possible, it’s not the theft being explored here. Home title theft is an offshoot of identity theft where stolen personal information is used to forge title transfers. Criminals will forge the signatures of actual homeowners to transfer the title into their own name – effectively stealing the title and fraudulently using it in several ways.
Once stolen, the title can be used to take out a home equity loan, resell the property, or rent it out and collect undue income. Home title theft is rare and does not happen as frequently as other forms of identity fraud does. But more and more instances of this crime are occurring, so it’s good to understand the scope of the situation to help you avoid becoming a victim.
Fraud in Action
To better illustrate how a home title theft unfolds, let’s take a quick look at some recent examples of this type of fraud in action. Again, this is a far less common type of fraud than other financially-focused identity theft – but it does happen.
One instance out of California saw two suspects involved with stealing titles of properties across the state that were not the owners’ primary residences. This tactic is common because thieves can go unnoticed as the owners aren’t as involved with the paperwork and day-to-day happenings of second homes as they are with their primary residences.
Another example saw a licensed real estate agent create a fake deed to transfer ownership of a house that was being foreclosed. The criminal not only abused the power of being a trusted professional but also began renting out the home and collecting rental income. This obviously affected the homeowner but also delayed the foreclosure process.
There have also been instances of home title fraud and deceased person fraud occurring simultaneously. The neighbor of a recently deceased individual transferred the home title into their name to again collect fraudulent rental income. This went on for months before being noticed when the victim’s estate went into probate.
Who is at Risk?
Home title theft is not a huge threat for the average person. If you don’t own a home or any other property, you aren’t likely to encounter this issue at all. But a few circumstances can increase your chances for this type of fraud and make you a more likely target for scammers and thieves.
Any property that sits empty or that is not often visited can be at increased risk for home title theft. This includes second homes and vacation rentals. Thieves often case a house before attempting to commit title fraud, and if they know no one is consistently checking in on the property it can embolden them to act.
Properties that are paid off in full with no current mortgages or liens are also at increased risk for this type of fraud. This is because it’s easier to forge the needed paperwork or set up a bogus rental scheme when a lender or lending company is not involved in any way with ownership of the house.
Elderly homeowners or anyone else in a vulnerable situation are also at more risk for home title theft. As with other types of fraud, elderly people are seen as easier victims in the eyes of criminals, making them a more frequent target.
Tips for Avoiding Home Title Theft
As with other types of fraud, there is no way to fully safeguard yourself from home title theft. But you can take some preventative measures to help you avoid this unfortunate situation. The first step to prevention is staying up to date and aware of all records and paperwork concerning properties you own. This is especially true for second homes or rental properties that you might not always pay as much attention to. If you see any unknown or unexpected bills or documents relating to a title transfer or anything else that seems weird, you should inquire with the sender of the documents to ensure everything is normal.
Some communities and local governments are also offering free real estate fraud notification services that you can sign up for in order to receive alerts whenever a title is changed or a lien is attached to a parcel number. This is like title lock insurance which is available through some insurance providers for a monthly fee. The free service is obviously more appealing than paid insurance, but both can help to alert you to potential issues before the problem gets too far along.
Identity theft planning and restoration services can also help you better monitor your credit and other aspects of your personal life that can lead to fraud. These services will help you navigate a home title theft or any other fraud issue until it gets resolved completely.
Home title theft isn’t common, but it’s still good to have it on your radar. Knowing the many threats that can lead to fraud will give you a leg up when it comes to staying informed and prepared if you fall victim. And with the identity fraud list growing longer by the day, gaining even a bit of insight and education keeps you one small step ahead of the threat actors who want you to stay in the dark.
LibertyID provides expert, full-service, fully managed identity theft restoration to individuals, couples, extended families* and businesses. LibertyID has a 100% success rate in resolving all forms of identity fraud on behalf of our subscribers.
*LibertyID defines an extended family as: you, your spouse/partner, your parents and parents-in-law, and your children under the age of 25.