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  • Writer's pictureJeff Sorg

Understanding Deed Theft: Tips to Safeguard Your Real Estate

man holding pen signing property deed
Photo by Matthias Zomer:

Deed theft, also known as title theft, is a crime where fraudsters steal the legal ownership of your property. Here's a breakdown of how this scheme unfolds:

Targeting the Vulnerable:

  • Vacant properties: Criminals often target unoccupied homes, vacation properties, or rentals as they remain unnoticed for extended periods.

  • Gathering information: Through various means, like stolen mail, data breaches, or public records, thieves acquire personal details like the owner's name and property address.

Forging the Deed:

  • Fake identities: Deceivers may create false identification documents mimicking the actual owner.

  • Falsifying documents: Using the stolen information, they forge a new deed, potentially with the help of a notary public acting knowingly or unknowingly on fraudulent documents.

Transferring Ownership:

  • Exploiting loopholes: They exploit weaknesses in record-keeping systems or target counties with lax procedures to file the forged deed with the relevant authorities.

Profiting from the Crime:

  • Equity theft: Once ownership is transferred, scammers can:

  • Refinance the property: They can obtain a mortgage on the stolen property, steal the loan amount, and leave you responsible for the repayments.

  • Sell the property: The fraudsters can sell the stolen property to unsuspecting buyers and pocket the proceeds.

The Aftermath:

  • Financial strain: The rightful owner unknowingly faces the consequences, including potential foreclosure due to unpaid mortgages or difficulty selling the property due to the fraudulent ownership transfer.

  • Legal battle: The rightful owner is entangled in a lengthy and expensive legal battle to reclaim their stolen property.

Here's what you can do to shield yourself from deed fraud:

Monitor Regularly:

  • Track your mail: A sudden halt in receiving property tax bills, mortgage statements, or other homeowner-related mail can be a red flag.

  • Check your credit report: New mortgages, liens, or unfamiliar inquiries on your credit report could indicate unauthorized activity. Obtain free credit reports annually from the three major bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

  • Public record vigilance: Regularly monitor your property records through your county recorder's website. Look for suspicious deeds, liens, or mortgages you haven't authorized.

Be Proactive with Security:

  • Secure your personal information: Shred documents containing personal details like your address or Social Security number.

  • Beware of unsolicited offers: Be wary of individuals approaching you with promises of quick cash through schemes involving your property title. Never share your deed or ownership documents without consulting a trusted professional.

Invest in Safeguards:

  • Title insurance: Consider purchasing an owner's title insurance policy. This protects you financially if someone fraudulently transfers ownership of your property.

  • Title monitoring services: Several companies offer title monitoring services that track changes to your property records and alert you of suspicious activity.

Stay Informed:

  • Educate yourself: Familiarize yourself with common deed fraud tactics. Reliable sources like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provide educational resources.

  • Seek professional help: If you suspect fraudulent activity, consult a real estate attorney immediately. They can guide you through the legal process and help you reclaim your property rights.

Reporting and Recovery:

  • Report the crime: File a police report if you suspect deed fraud. This strengthens your case and aids law enforcement in investigating the situation.

  • Contact relevant entities: Inform your mortgage lender, credit bureaus, and the county recorder's office about the fraudulent activity. This will help prevent further damage and facilitate the process of regaining ownership.

Implementing these steps can significantly reduce your risk of falling prey to deed fraud. Remember, vigilance and a proactive approach are crucial in protecting your most valuable asset - your home.


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