Can someone really steal the title to your home? The simple answer is no, but they can cost you a lot of money and cause you many problems.
- These scams involve identity theft and fraud.
- You can take steps to avoid victimization.
- There are steps you can and should take immediately if you are a victim.
While these scams are not common, they are complicated and are expensive and time-consuming to fix.
How do Thieves Steal Your Home Title?
While thieves don’t steal your home title, they do steal your identity and commit fraud. First, they gather as much information as they can about you. At a minimum, they want your social security number, date of birth, and address for your permanent residence.1
Who is the Target?
As with any scam, thieves target homes where the owner isn’t paying attention and doesn’t keep up with the house. These are usually:
- Vacant houses
- Vacation houses
- Homes with elderly owners
- Rental/investment properties
- Poorly maintained homes
A poorly maintained home suggests that the owner may be infirm or careless with the property. If they neglect the property, they may be careless about the title as well. Owners leave vacation homes empty for much of the year and may not closely keep up with ownership issues, and vacant homes are prime targets for the same reason. Sometimes small rental property owners don’t keep a close eye on their investment. Many owners hire management companies to look after it so that it becomes a passive income vehicle.
In all these cases, the scammer looks for owners who aren’t paying close attention to their properties. Primary residences, large apartment buildings, commercial buildings, or industrial sites aren’t good targets.
Once the scammer picks a property, they focus on the owner. First, they find out who owns the land. This part is easy because the county clerk records it and keeps it as a public record. After that, the thief gathers as much information on the target as they can. At a minimum, they want the owner’s primary address, social security number, and date of birth. Without this information, they won’t be able to forge documents in order to sell or borrow against the house. They gather this data by:
- Looking on social media.
- Finding/stealing your tax return.
- Discarded pay stubs.
- Stealing bank records.
- Phishing scams.
This process can take time. It’s not easy to gather sensitive personal data, but it is possible. Don’t make it easy by being careless with this information.
Forgery and Fraud
Once they gather enough data, they either fraudulently take out loans against the property or sell it. In both cases, there are complications, because real estate transactions are time-consuming with steps to identify property value, seller’s equity, and the buyer’s/borrower’s debt and income.
In the first case, the sales process usually takes about six months. They must:
- List the house and find a buyer.
- Negotiate a contract.
- Submit the contract to attorneys for review.
- Close the transaction.
There are several steps where things may go wrong. A careful lawyer or loan officer may uncover the scam if they are careful. Also, if the real owner inspects the property, they will easily uncover the scam. An easier option is to borrow against the house.
Ideally, the scammer finds a house where the owner has no liens on the property. In any case, their options include:
- Take out or refinance a primary mortgage.
- Take out a second mortgage.
- Get a home equity loan.
- Get a home equity line of credit.
This process is shorter and less risky for a scammer. There is no long sales process, so no real estate agents and usually no lawyers. While it is easier and less risky, a good loan officer or careful homeowner will uncover this scam easily as well.
Can Someone Steal Your Home Title? How to Avoid Deed Theft Scams
While you can’t completely avoid deed theft scams, you can take steps to reduce the chance that you become a victim. Here are some steps you can take:
- Watch your mail – make sure bills come on time and are accurate.
- Review your credit reports regularly.
- Physically go and inspect a vacation home, vacant house, or investment property that you own.
- Use strong passwords on all your electronic devices.
- Regularly check with your county clerk to make sure that your title has not been altered – Many counties around the country have consumer notification services that you can sign up for.
- Consider home title insurance from a reputable vendor.
Identity theft is a growing problem in general, and it is at the heart of any title theft scam. Therefore, steps you should take to protect your identity are also important for deed theft. In addition, take steps to monitor your title and physically inspect your property regularly.2
Can Someone Steal Your Home Title? What to do if You are a Victim
If you are the victim of a title theft scam the best place to start is to call the companies where the fraud occurred. Let the mortgage company, real estate agent, attorney know that there is a fraud, and the transaction is illegal. Immediately after that call your title insurance company and your real estate lawyer and report it to them. They will work with you to set things right.
Place a fraud alert with all your creditors, and at the same time pull your credit reports. See if any other suspicious activity occurred. Report the identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Finally, file a report with your local police department. Do all of this quickly, because time is of the essence. If you get confused about that to do the FTC has an identity theft site to help you.3
Final Thoughts about Can Someone Steal Your Home Title
Identity theft is a growing problem because authorities have a hard time catching the perpetrators. These are getting bolder and trying more complex and risky schemes such as title theft scams. While these scams occur infrequently because of their complexity, they do happen. If you find yourself the victim, it will be complicated and expensive to fix.
Always be careful with your personal information. Don’t just throw away mail that has personal information, destroy it. Be careful what you post on any social media site, use the personal protection tools that each site provides. Secure any sensitive documents in a safe. Finally, monitor your credit and watch out for suspicious activity.