Home Title Theft: What You Should Know And How To Prevent It
June 22, 2023 4-minute read
Author: Ashley Kilroy
The typical homeowner usually sees their house as one of their most significant investments. Unfortunately, your home’s value also draws the attention of thieves looking to scam you for your equity. Homeowners who experience identity theft are especially vulnerable to home title theft, as their financial information is in criminals’ hands. Here’s how you can avoid home title theft or report it if you suspect a thief is using your financial information.
What Is Home Title Theft?
Home title theft is when someone illegally steals your identity and transfers your house title to their name to steal money or property. Identity theft is usually necessary for title fraud because the thief needs to make the forged home deed look legitimate. Home title theft comes in several forms, including:
- A fraudulent refinance in which the person withdraws your equity and leaves you with another mortgage. While they don’t gain possession of your home, they use your identity to steal money based on your home’s value.
- Similarly, they can access your equity through a home equity line of credit (HELOC) and create a mountain of debt for which you’re responsible.
- Thieves can forge deeds to sell uninhabited real estate, such as rental buildings or vacation homes.
- Someone might present homeowners in financial hardship with a fake refinancing opportunity. At closing, the homeowner unknowingly signs paperwork for a home sale assigning the scammer as the new owner.
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How To Prevent Home Title Theft
Home title theft can have dire consequences – but fortunately, homeowners can take several measures to protect themselves.
1. Keep Track Of All Bills And Homeowner Mail
Staying on top of the consistent flow of typical bills, such as utilities and mortgage payment notices, is crucial for homeowners to stay in good financial standing. If specific bills stop arriving or you receive mortgage paperwork that seems unfamiliar, it may be a sign that someone could be tampering with your home title. Therefore, keeping track of your homeowner mail is vital to preventing theft and fraud.
2. Check Your Credit Report Routinely
Frequently checking your credit report is an excellent practice for financial health. In addition, homeowners can scan their reports for suspicious activity. For example, a new loan or lender you don’t recognize requires further investigation, as it could be a sign of a scam. You can also pay for a monitoring service to provide constant vigilance for your credit reports.
3. Get Title Insurance
Title insurance comes in two forms: lenders and homeowners. When you buy a home, your lender will mandate your purchase of title insurance to ensure there are no liens against the home you’re buying. In other words, the insurance helps guarantee the sale is legitimate and provides repayment to the lender if it isn’t.
Conversely, homeowners title insurance protects you after buying a home. If unforeseen liens or financial claims come against your home, your policy will pay for legal fees and defend your right to stay in your home. This protection includes fending off fraudulent claims against your homeownership.
4. Stay Educated On Common Scams
Understanding and identifying common scams that target homeowners can help you steer clear of theft. For example, scammers pose as real estate agents or lenders to perform fraudulent transactions or identity theft. Or, the thief might try a reverse mortgage scam on older homeowners, leaving them saddled with debt. Lastly, if a deal or interest rate for a home seems too good to be true, it likely is. Scammers often lure in unsuspecting homeowners with incredible deals to obtain personal and financial information.
What To Do If Home Title Theft Has Happened To You
Homeowners who are victims of home title theft or detect suspicious activity should take the following steps:
- Call or contact the relevant entities. For instance, call your lender’s fraud department if you think scammers have used your identity to steal money through a refinance. Your lender will freeze your account to prevent further activity.
- Change your login credentials for your mortgage, credit cards, bank accounts and other financial accounts. It’s also essential to file an identity theft claim with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
- Notify one of the three credit bureaus (Equifax®, TransUnion® and Experian™) of the theft. The entity you contact will inform the others. In addition, pull your credit reports from the bureaus to document the theft.
- Visit your local police department with your ID, proof of address and documents demonstrating the home title theft and your FTC identity theft claim.
Home Title Theft FAQs
How common is home title theft?
Home title theft can be financially disastrous for victims, but it is not extremely common. Homeowners usually have layers of protection from insurance policies, lenders and government entities preventing such crimes.
However, identity theft can lead to a criminal performing title fraud and other scams. In addition, seniors are more likely targets of home title theft because they generally have more equity in their homes, meaning more cash to steal.
What are the signs of home title theft?
Typical signs of title theft include:
- Odd items appearing on your credit report, such as unfamiliar mortgages and lenders.
- Mail you usually receive regarding your home, like bills and notices, disappearing, or new paperwork for financial products you don’t recognize, such as home equity loans.
- A service you currently pay for, such as Home Title Lock, notifying you of identity theft or illegal activity.
- Scammers posing as a lender or real estate agent might contact you to steal your financial information.
How do I report home title theft?
You can report home title theft by calling your mortgage lender and submitting a claim on the FTC website. In addition, contact one of the three credit bureaus to report the fraudulent activity.
After taking these steps, visit your local police department with documentation from your reports and documents verifying your homeownership and identity to report the theft. Reporting home title theft is critical to stopping the thief and preventing financial loss.
What happens when a title is stolen?
When a thief steals a home title, the homeowner can lose their property. For instance, homeowners can experience foreclosure when fraudulent home equity loans or refinances create new debts against the property.
The Bottom Line
Home title theft can be financially ruinous for homeowners. When a thief gets a hold of your personal and financial information, they can take out new debts against your home and walk away with the cash or even transfer your property to themselves. Therefore, monitoring your financial information and reporting suspicious activity to your lender and relevant authorities is crucial.
To stay safe as a homeowner, you can learn more about mortgage fraud and scams and stay ahead of fraudulent activity.
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