The Honest Broker: HOME TITLE FRAUD
BY: DIANE LOTT, BROKER PARADISE FOUND REALTY, INC.
Lately, there have been more stories in the news about “Home Title Fraud”. Home title fraud, title theft, and deed fraud all mean the same. It is a crime that occurs when someone fraudulently replaces your name on the title to your property with their name.
Home title fraud is gaining traction as information about people becomes more accessible online. It is difficult to know how widespread this crime is because authorities have not separated home title fraud into its own category. However, there has been an increase in arrests for this issue and police stings have been occurring with more frequency for “rings” and groups of individuals that are committing this type of fraud in dozens of Florida counties.
How does it happen? Property transfers hands through a deed that names the grantee (buyer) and is signed by the true owner/grantor under the presence of a notary. Before the grantor(owner) and notary sign the deed, the notary will ask the grantor to produce proper identification. Thus, to carry out title fraud for homes, the fraudster will first need to gather your personal information. The internet is an easy source to gather your personal information. Phishing schemes is another source. You should always be on guard whenever someone requests your sensitive information, especial through phishing schemes.
Once armed with your personal information, these fraudsters assume your identity and create fake identification and social security cards allowing them to ultimately notarize the deed by forging your signature. They then can take it a step further through forging the entire deed, including the notary page and stamp.
After the deed is notarized, the fraudster will record the deed at the local county’s recorder’s office for a nominal fee. County recorder’s offices normally do not inspect the documents submitted for recording for fraud. The properties that are vulnerable to this are those that have accumulated substantial equity. Especially those properties that are vacant, owned as a vacation home, or held for investment purposes.
For one, the fraudsters need the equity to bait their next layer of victims, i.e., those victims whom the fraudsters will “borrow” money from or “sell” the property to. Second, people who own these types of properties are usually inattentive to the day-to-day management activities and, thus, unlikely to notice any document that would tip them off to fraud. For this reason, the elderly is the most vulnerable demographic for this type of crime.
Prevention: In calling a few service companies that state they specialize in home title fraud, for example, “Home Title Lock”, and “Lifelock”, I was informed that they don’t have a way to prevent it from happening but will alert you to any unusual activity. This really doesn’t help you on the prevention end, but their service can “help” you with litigation and the identity theft that has resulted. The only way to increase your chances of preventing this from happening to you is directly related to your vigilance on your credit, identity use and by checking the local appraiser’s office for your property and ownership details.
Diane Lott, Broker
Owner: Paradise Found Realty
Paradise Found Realty, Inc. of Palm City
Sign up for alerts and daily digests at www.treasurecoast.com