BBB received a call from a consumer this week about ads for services claiming to protect people from fraudulent property title transfers. The consumer wanted to know if this really could happen. The short answer is, yes. Home title fraud happens when someone obtains the title to your property and changes ownership from your information to theirs. The scary part is, you may not even realize it until it’s too late.
How the Scam Works:
Scammers will pick a house, sometimes a second home, rental or vacant house. Gathering personal information from the internet or elsewhere, they take over your identity and assume the role of property owner or claim to represent you. They file the necessary paperwork to transfer ownership of your property to themselves. using forged signatures and fraudulent identification. They then sell the home or borrow against the equity. You might not even know this has happened until a lender starts to send letters of foreclosure on your home due to failure to make payments.
Home Title Fraud Red Flags
According to Norton.com you may be a victim of this type of fraud if:
- ”seen rising utility bills at vacant or second properties
- stopped receiving tenant rent payments
- received information from a lender you’ve never done business with”
Make no mistake. This is another form of Identity Theft, so it’s important to act quickly one you’ve realized you are a victim. Here’s how to protect yourself:
- Verify Requests for eSignature. If you are selling your home and receive a request for an electronic signature, always call your real estate or mortgage broker to verify that the request came from them.
- Check the accuracy of your property information periodically at your county assessor’s office. Look for deeds that you or anyone representing you did not prepare or sign, periodically. Some counties provide consumer notification services any time a document is recorded on your property. Source: Norton.com
- Be careful with your personal information. Treat your personal information like the valuable commodity it is. Make sure you shred any documents that have your bank account information, Social Security/Social Insurance number, or other personal information. Be suspicious of any unsolicited communication asking for personal information.
- Check your credit reports regularly for unauthorized inquiries and accounts. In the U.S., you have the right to check your credit report with each of the three major credit bureaus once per year at AnnualCreditReport.com. This is the only free crediting reporting service authorized by the Federal Trade Commission. Space these checks out across the year, and you will know quickly if something is wrong. In Canada, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada provides information on requesting a free credit report.
- Look for unexplained withdrawals, charges, and accounts. Review your bank account and credit card statements regularly. Look for unfamiliar charges, accounts, or withdrawals. Know when your bills are due; one tip-off for identity theft is when you stop receiving certain bills. This can happen because scammers have changed the address associated with your bank account or credit card. If bills don’t arrive on time, follow up with your creditors. Debt collectors may call you about debts that aren’t yours. You can also set up automatic alerts on your accounts, so you are notified every time a transaction is made.
- Check with your local recorder of deeds. Look for deeds that you or anyone representing you did not prepare or sign, periodically. Make sure they have the correct mailing address for you.
To Stop Further Identity Theft
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. The Federal Trade Commission recommends that you create an ID theft report, if your ID is stolen. This report will help you deal with the credit reporting agencies and companies that extended credit to the identity thief using your name. First, report the crime to the FTC and print a copy of the details. Contact FTC at 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338) or Identitytheft.gov.
- File a report with local law enforcement. Keep all records of your case, police reports and supporting documents; these may be needed by credit card companies or banks to prove innocence.
- File a report with the FBI: Contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3): ic3.gov.
- Place a “fraud alert” or “freeze” on your credit reports. Contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit reporting agencies. Let them know you’ve been a victim of identity theft and ask questions—including what protection is provided and if there are any costs—to determine whether a fraud alert or freeze is best for your situation.
- Notify all credit grantors and financial institutions. Check the status on existing accounts, as they may have been jeopardized. Find out if there is any unauthorized activity or new accounts have been fraudulently opened in your name. You may be advised to close some or all of your accounts. Create new passwords and change your PINs.
Sources: BBB.org & Norton.com
For more details check out Home Title Theft: An Overview Plus Protection Tips.