It seems ridiculous, the idea that some rogue could come into your world and, well, steal it. But that is exactly what is happening to more than a few American homeowners. It is hard enough to qualify for a home as it is, you would at least like to believe that so long as you keep up your end, pay the taxes, and avoid problems with the HOA you have a chance to, you know, live in it.
But in the ever-changing society we live in, I bring you a story of Americans discovering that what was once theirs was taken, and not so much as a Ring doorbell alert was sent.
Deed fraud — also called home title fraud, title theft, or house stealing — is the illegal transfer and recording of a real estate title without the knowledge or consent of the legal owner.
Criminals often target vacant properties — such as vacation homes — especially if the legal owner is deceased. In some cases, the scammer will live in the home. But it’s more common for them to rent it out illegally or even sell it and pocket the money.
I know what you must be thinking, which is the same thing I was thinking when I read it: How? Bad guys can’t just go to the county recorder and hand over a piece of paper that says “Quit Claim Deed” with forged signatures and a counterfeit notary and fraudulently gain ownership of someone else’s property, right?
They can. Jiminy Crickets.
When they register the sale at the county recorder’s office, they’ll either use fraudulent identification, a counterfeit notary signature, or even work with an unethical registered notary to pull off the scam.
I will say that the term “unethical” in reference to a notary who would help to steal another person’s real property is quite generous. I might myself choose, “felonious thief,” but hey, that is just me.
Experts say there are four main preventative actions that can be taken to avoid this issue, and as you might suspect, it involves your identity.
First, they say to make sure your mail keeps coming. This is known as a change of address scam, and allows the criminal to buy time while they do things like open a line of credit against your property or rent it out.
Second, regularly check the status of your deed. This sounds silly. Why should one have to keep checking to see if they own something over and over? Because apparently, most county recorder’s don’t verify signatures.
Third, monitor your credit reports and fourth, when purchasing a property, do an exhaustive title search.
I know this is yet another heaping of “Ya gotta be kidding me” on your plate of “I can’t believe this.” But it seemed to me that it is becoming prevalent enough that it merited writing about. Hopefully this never happens, but be wary of solicitors and never answer a stranger’s question or show your signature to them.
Don’t let anyone else be your landlord when you own the place.