Homeowners and Landowners: Don’t Let Title Thieves Steal Your Property

Fraudsters have been targeting properties with absent or deceased owners and transferring the titles to other names or corporations. The scam is known as house deed or title theft.

Some criminals falsify property deed documentation using stolen information and assume the property owner’s identity. Others are trusted caregivers who target seniors, taking advantage of their frailties.

One real-life example involved an unscrupulous caregiver. The caregiver tricked her elderly client into signing over his power of attorney. With the help of a shady notary public, she transferred the man’s title using a quitclaim deed, effectively stealing his home from under him.

Title thieves and who they target

Quitclaim deeds are designed as a quick way to transfer property. Some states require just a single form to be completed and notarized, and county employees may not be allowed to challenge the authenticity of the request. Correcting the title and reverting ownership to the original owner can be costly. If the scammer leverages the property to take out loans, it can get even trickier.

Paid-off properties are a title pirate’s favorite targets because there’s no mortgage lender to question the transaction. Plus, mortgage-free properties may have substantial equity, making them ideal collateral for loan fraud.

Criminals go after low-hanging fruit that won’t be on anyone’s radar, such as:

  • Vacant homes
  • Empty lots or land parcels
  • Absentee owners
  • Recently deceased owners

In 2022, 11,727 people were victims of real estate scams, according to the FBI’s 2022 Internet Crime Report. The report estimates their losses at $396 million. But there are ways to protect yourself, your loved ones and your property.

Preventive measures against title theft

Take these measures to protect against title pirates:

  • Review your property records regularly to look for changes to information or liens. Call your county recorder’s office and ask if they offer free title monitoring.
  • Enroll in identity theft protection for alerts about suspicious activities, including any involving your property title. You might already have free credit monitoring through your credit card company.
  • Purchase owner’s title insurance when you pay off your mortgage. It can help defray costs if someone contests your ownership.
  • Safeguard sensitive documents and personal information. Title thieves can use your personal information to forge your identifying documents and steal your title.
  • Securely dispose of personal documents and mail. Banks and communities sometimes have secure shredding events where they shred your documents for free. Or buy a high-quality cross-cut shredder.
  • Be suspicious of absent utility bills for your property. It could be a red flag that someone’s impersonating you, transferring the bills to their name at a new address. Call the utility companies directly to verify the accuracy of your account information.

What to do if your property title is under attack

If you discover suspicious activity on your title, alert your local recorders office and police. File an identity theft report immediately or contact your identity theft service if you use one. You might also need the help of an attorney to reclaim your property.

Title pirates might have a demographic in mind, but you don’t have to be their next victim. Remember these tips to secure your property and stay ahead of the scam.