BBB received a call from a consumer this week regarding advertisements for services purporting to protect people from fraudulent title transfers. The consumer wanted to know if this could really happen. The short answer is yes. Title fraud occurs when someone obtains title to your property and changes ownership of your information to theirs. The scary thing is that you might not even realize it until it’s too late.
How the scam works:
Scammers will choose a home, sometimes a second home, rental, or vacant home. Collecting personal information on the Internet or elsewhere, they appropriate your identity and assume the role of owner or claim to represent you. They complete the necessary paperwork to transfer ownership of your property to themselves. using forged signatures and fraudulent identification. They then sell the house or borrow against the equity. You may not even know it happened until a lender starts sending foreclosure letters on your home due to a default.
Home Title Fraud Red flags
According to Norton.com, you may be a victim of this type of fraud if:
- “Given the rise in utility bills in vacant or secondary properties
- stopped receiving rent payments from tenants
- received information from a lender with whom you have never done business â
Don’t make mistakes. This is another form of identity theft, so it’s important to act quickly when you realize you are a victim. Here’s how to protect yourself:
- Check electronic signature requests. If you sell your home and receive an electronic signature request, always call your real estate or mortgage broker to verify that the request is coming from them.
- Check the accuracy of your property information periodically at your county assessor’s office. Look for deeds that you or anyone representing you have not prepared or signed, periodically. Some counties provide notification services to consumers whenever a document is saved on your property. Source: Norton.com
- Be careful with your personal information. Treat your personal information as a valuable asset. Make sure to destroy all documents containing your bank account information, social security / insurance number, or other personal information. Beware of any unsolicited communication requesting personal information.
- Regularly check your credit reports for unauthorized inquiries and accounts. In the United States, you have the right to check your credit report with each of the three major credit bureaus once a year on AnnualCreditReport.com. It is the only free credit reporting service authorized by the Federal Trade Commission. Space these checks out throughout the year and you’ll quickly know if something is wrong. In Canada, the Financial Consumer Agency of Canada provides information on requesting a free credit report.
- Look for withdrawals, fees and unexplained accounts. Regularly review your bank and credit card statements. Look for unknown fees, accounts or withdrawals. Know when your bills are due; a report for identity theft is when you stop receiving certain bills. This can happen because crooks have changed the address associated with your bank account or credit card. If invoices don’t arrive on time, follow up with your creditors. Debt collectors can call you about debts that don’t belong to you. You can also configure automatic alerts on your accounts, in order to be notified each time a transaction is carried out.
- Check with your local deed recorder. Look for deeds that you or anyone representing you have not prepared or signed, periodically. Make sure they have the correct mailing address for you.
To stop other identity theft
- File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. The Federal Trade Commission recommends that you create an identity theft report if your identity is stolen. This report will help you deal with credit reporting agencies and companies that have granted credit to the identity thief using your name. First, report the crime to the FTC and print a copy of the details. Contact the FTC at 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338) or Identitytheft.gov.
- File a report with local law enforcement. Keep all your case files, police reports and supporting documents; these may be needed by credit card companies or banks to prove innocence.
- File a report with the FBI: Contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3): ic3.gov.
- Place a “fraud alert” or “freeze” on your credit reports. Contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit reporting agencies. Let them know you’ve been a victim of identity theft and ask questions, including what protection is provided and if there is a charge, to determine if a fraud alert or freeze is best. adapted to your situation.
- Notify all credit providers and financial institutions. Check the status of existing accounts, as they may have been compromised. Find out if there is unauthorized activity or if new accounts have been fraudulently opened in your name. You may be advised to close some or all of your accounts. Create new passwords and change your PIN codes.
Sources: BBB.org and Norton.com
For more details, see Theft of Title Deed: An Overview and Protection Tips.
To find a business you can trust, check out BBB.org. To report a scam, go to BBB.org/ScamTracker.
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