Today’s technology comes with incredible benefits, but there have been a few challenges as well. Having so much of our lives online makes it easier for identity theft to occur, with millions of identities stolen every year in the US. Most of us are aware of identity theft and have taken steps to protect ourselves, like monitoring our credit reports and keeping our social security numbers safe. But did you know that this type of theft can extend to your home as well?
Home title fraud, which is sometimes referred to as mortgage fraud or property fraud, was once relatively rare but is now one of the fastest-growing cybercrimes in the country. As realtors, our goal is to make buying or selling a home as stress-free, safe, and seamless as possible. Part of that is ensuring homeowners are aware of any issues that could impact them, including home title fraud. Let’s take a look at what this particular form of identity theft entails, and how you can keep your name and your home protected!
What is home title fraud?
Home title fraud happens when someone steals your identity, obtains the title to your home, then changes the ownership on the title from your name to theirs. Once the title is in the thief’s name, they use the property as collateral to secure multiple loans. This can be incredibly lucrative since they have no intention of ever paying those loans back!
Unfortunately, the real homeowner often knows nothing about this scam until they receive a notice of foreclosure from the lender.
Although this type of fraud is sometimes called mortgage fraud, it’s important to differentiate between home fraud that occurs in conjunction with identity theft and home fraud that occurs when a buyer, seller, or lender falsifies information in order to obtain a mortgage loan. Home title fraud generally occurs well after the mortgage process is complete.
How common is home title fraud?
In 2017, the FBI reported over 300,000 wire fraud complaints. Of these, about 10,000 were directly related to real estate, with losses of more than $56 million. While not all of these can be traced directly to home title fraud, it does give you some idea of how prevalent it can be, especially since all signs point to this type of fraud only increasing in the last few years.
Who is most vulnerable to home title fraud?
No one is entirely immune to fraud. However, there are two groups of people who are particularly vulnerable to home title fraud: older homeowners and homeowners who have multiple holdings, including vacation homes and real estate investment properties.
Older homeowners are a frequent target for home title fraud since they generally have more equity in their homes and may not be as alert to the signs of fraud as someone younger who is more versed in modern identity theft methods.
It’s easier for homeowners with more than one property to miss important communications for additional homes such as property tax bills, past-due notices, and even foreclosure notices. This gives identity thieves more time to carry out their plans, with some homeowners not finding out about the issue until well after the fact. This can make it more difficult to correct.
How to protect yourself from home title fraud
Like any other type of identity theft, the best way to protect yourself and your home is awareness and diligence. Here are some basic steps you can take to keep your personal information out of the hands of those who would love nothing more than to use it against you!
Check your credit report regularly—By monitoring your credit report on a regular basis, you’ll be more likely to catch any suspicious activity taking place in your name.
Keep a close eye on your bills—If you don’t receive your tax, utility, or other bills when you would normally expect them, be sure to inquire about it right away. Stealing mail is a very popular way for identity thieves to obtain sensitive personal information.
Verify your home information—Take a look at your county deed’s website or visit their office in order to verify it is your own name listed on the property’s deed.
Take steps to protect your title—Whether you’re investing in a primary residence, vacation home, or other property, consider purchasing a homeowner’s title insurance policy for extra protection.
If your home is in Shelby County, you’re in luck! The Shelby County Register of Deeds office recently launched their brand new Fraud Alert Program to help citizens protect their property against home title fraud. Their up-to-date technology will issue a Property Fraud Alert if there’s any threat to your property, giving you the chance to act before it’s too late! You can register for this free service clicking here. The process takes just a minute or two and you can enter as many names as you’d like for monitoring.
What to do if you’ve been a victim of home title fraud
Even if you do everything right, it’s still possible to experience identity fraud. If you find yourself a victim of home title fraud, take prompt action. Notify credit reporting agencies like Equifax, TransUnion, and Experien as soon as possible. You should also consider filing an identity theft report with your local police department.
Trust your real estate investment to Judy McLellan & The JudyMac Team of Crye-Leike Realtors
JudyMac and her team are here to help you find the perfect house—and protect it once you have it. If you’re looking for a place to call home from Downtown to East Memphis, Germantown, Collierville, and beyond, get in touch with Judy and her team today and let’s get started!