Title fraud, although a rare scam, does happen to homeowners and may result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in loss. Senior citizens with paid-off mortgages are particularly vulnerable to title fraud and similar real estate fraud schemes. As a Maryland title company, we help our clients reduce the risk of purchasing a property that might have been fraudulently obtained. There are also several steps you can take, including guarding your personal information, to avoid becoming a victim of title fraud.
What is Title Fraud?
Title fraud is typically a result of identity theft. Someone pretending to be you obtains fraudulent paperwork that allows them to:
- Transfer your house in their name
- Sell your house
- Take out a second mortgage
Who is Targeted With Title Fraud?
Thieves tend to target high-value properties that have already been paid off. Coincidentally, these are often properties owned by seniors who may not immediately realize what is happening until creditors are knocking at their doors. Seniors are also likely to vacate the property for long periods of time due to vacations or hospital stays. This makes them the perfect target for thieves who often manage to sell the home in a matter of weeks.
Dishonest caregivers, whether they are related to the homeowner or not, may also take advantage of such conditions as Alzheimer’s and forge a power of attorney or even coerce the homeowner to transfer the deed.
What Can be Done to Protect Your Property
To prevent title fraud, you should focus on preventing identity theft. Be careful about what information you share online, shred sensitive documents and keep all of the document originals in a safe place. There are various identity protection programs offered by banks and credit bureaus. If you are worried about your elderly loved one, this may be a good option.
Another prevention strategy is to extend the life of your mortgage or take out a secured line of credit on the home that’s been paid off. Both of these techniques, although costly, may deter potential thieves who go after mortgage-free homes.
Even if a thief gets access to your personal information, you can still prevent serious damage by acting early. Be on a lookout for the following signs of identity theft:
- Unauthorized withdrawals from your bank account
- Your credit card or checks are declined
- You stop receiving certain mail/emails like bills and bank statements
- You keep getting calls from debt collectors about debts that are not yours
- Your credit score goes down
- You receive odd mail or emails about things you didn’t sign up for
Risk Management for Future Home Buyers
Protect yourself with title insurance, especially if you are paying for the property in cash and are not required by lender to purchase this policy. Title insurance protects your right to home ownership in the event of title fraud and many other “tangled title” situations. Title insurance is purchased at the time of closing and is valid as long as you own the property. If a few weeks after you move in the real owner shows up and the scam is revealed, your title insurance policy will protect you.
Interested in learning more about title insurance or how to protect yourself from real estate fraud? Contact us today to speak with one of our title experts.