DATCP Complaint Spotlight: Beware of Home Title Theft

Your house may not be for sale – but that might not be enough to stop offers from coming in. A case of home title theft, also known as title fraud, deed fraud, or “house stealing,” was recently reported to DATCP. Scammers stole the identities of a property’s owners, then tricked a legitimate realtor into putting that property up for sale. Several offers were made before the real owners noticed their property was being sold!

June is National Homeownership Month, so DATCP wants to remind homeowners that all con artists need to commit this fraud is your personal information and some patience. Home title theft involves the involuntary transfer of a property’s ownership without the legitimate property owner’s knowledge. The scammers create fake IDs, Social Security cards, and other documents, then either sell the property in your name, transfer the deed to themselves so they “own” your home, or withdraw equity by refinancing your mortgage or opening a home equity line of credit in your name.

This complaint follows a trend of other complaints filed with DATCP involving direct mail solicitations offering to purchase the targets’ properties. Property owners should reject any unsolicited or unexpected mail offers to sell their property – even if you ultimately decide against it, providing your personal information to a stranger could increase your risk of identity theft.

Older consumers or homeowners in crisis may also be vulnerable to fake “refinancing” offers that are deceptively documented as a sale, thus transferring ownership away from the rightful owner.

Remember that these fraudulent sales can have payouts in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, so scammers are willing to dedicate a lot of time, energy, and resources to appearing legitimate and covering their tracks. They may pose as multiple people, use various methods of communication, and go to great lengths to steal people’s personal information and accounts.

Red flags that property owners should investigate right away:

· Unexpected mail related to the sale of your property, especially from a mortgage company – even if your name is not on it.

· Phone calls inquiring about your property.

· Unsolicited offers to buy or refinance your property.

· No longer receiving bills, or a scheduled automatic withdrawal doesn’t happen.

If you suspect your property is involved in home title theft, contact the police immediately and file a complaint with DATCP.