#31 Title Fraud (Property)
Of growing concern to property owners and the real-estate industry alike is a little known form of identity theft called property title fraud. Title fraud is an involuntary transfer of property ownership without the true owner’s consent or knowledge, this crime happens when someone obtains the title to property and changes recorded ownership. Criminals file the necessary paperwork to transfer ownership of the property, using forged signatures and fraudulent identification.
Fraudsters scan electronic records searching for properties that have accrued equity. The thieves then forge bill of sale documents and signatures and transfer ownership to themselves or in some cases, fictitious names. Property ownership is normally proven by a piece of paper called 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. (Note that the court clerk verifies that these legal formalities are met. But the clerk isn’t responsible for contacting the seller and buyer and 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.
Jennifer Merin first became suspicious when she started to receive utility bills for a home, she had inherited but which was supposed to be vacant. Darrell Beatty had merely forged a deed to the home and moved in. It took more than a year before Merin was able to legally evict Beatty at a cost of $100,000 in legal fees. Beatty was eventually convicted of fraud and sentenced to a year in prison. Merin also suffered hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage to the property and family heirlooms as a result.
Vacation homes, cottages, unoccupied and abandoned homes are prime targets of title fraud, although scammers also target homes that are occupied. Sometimes, the scammers will live in the homes, as was the case with Darrell Beatty. It is not uncommon for fraudsters to sell or rent the property to unsuspecting victims.
3 Warning Signs of Home Title Fraud
Here are some of the signs that may indicate you have become a victim of home title fraud:
- Unpaid bills. A notice for an unpaid water bill, tax bill, or mortgage bill or, interestingly enough, not receiving a water bill or tax bill that you should have received. In that case, an identity thief may go to the taxing authority and change the address to which the bills will be sent to hide the crime longer.
- Notice of foreclosure. Receipt of a notice of foreclosure when you don’t even have a mortgage.
- Signs of life. Evidence of activity at an unoccupied home or vacation home.
Credit monitoring will not alert you to this type of identity theft
LibertyID will take the following steps for/with their members:
- Contact impacted creditor/businesses where the victim’s information was misused and have the fraudulent accounts closed and note the presence of identity theft.
- Place fraud alerts at all three credit reporting agencies
- Place credit freezes at all three credit reporting agencies, if appropriate
- File report with FTC
- If their identity theft involved the use of your driver’s license number, Social Security Number, or another type of identification, will we contact the relevant agencies to notify them of the theft.
- Review credit reports with the victim to ensure there is no other types of fraud
- Provide single bureau credit monitoring with alerts for 12 months
- LibertyID will ensure that the restoration is completed with the victim
- Periodically contact the member throughout the 12 months following resolution of their ID theft recovery case, if warranted.
LibertyID has no disqualifications for service other than extreme cases of self-inflicted “intentional” fraud (this is extremely rare). LibertyID understands and accepts the reality and risk that most American are already a victim (to some degree) of identity theft.