There’s a growing threat lurking within the dark corners of the internet. It’s a cybercrime known as home title theft, and if if you own any sort of equity in your home, you’re at risk of becoming a victim of what the FBI is now calling one of the fastest-growing white-collar crimes in America.
In this article, we’ll explain what home title theft is and why it has become a bigger problem for homeowners in recent years. We’ll also help you understand how to recognize when your home title may have been stolen and give you tips on how to protect yourself from the criminals who want access to your home title.
The Quick Facts
To fully understand the magnitude and severity of home title theft in the U.S., let’s start by taking a look at the facts:
- In 2017, the FBI reported that more than 9,600 victims lost over $56 million as a result of fraud relating to real estate and rental properties.
- In the second quarter of 2018, CoreLogic reported a 12.5% year-over-year increase in mortgage fraud risk. According to HousingWire, the six most common indicators of fraud were related to identity, income, occupancy, property, transaction and undisclosed real estate debt.
- More public records are stored online today than ever before. As a result, anyone can access your home title. A thief can simply go online or visit your County Recorder’s office, pay a few dollars, and legally obtain a copy of your deed.
These facts and others prove that home title theft and mortgage fraud are very real. But what exactly is home title theft and who does it happen to?
What is Home Title Theft?
Home title theft happens when a criminal steals the title or deed of your home for the purpose of making money.
Title theft is also known as house stealing, home title fraud, property fraud, deed fraud. Title theft occurs when someone fraudulently changes the name on your title from you to them, effectively stealing your home. Once they have access to your home title, a criminal will take out loans using your home as collateral, pocket the money, and disappear.
Home title theft criminals typically target homeowners with high equity, seniors and aging parents, and people with a second home or investment properties.
Is it Actually a Growing Problem?
The short answer is yes, home title theft is a real and growing problem in the U.S. Here are a few reasons why:
- Reason #1: The U.S. population is aging.Rural Health Information Hub says that “there are more than 46 million older adults age 65 and older living in the U.S.; by 2050, that number is expected to grow to almost 90 million.” As this group of people ages, they gain more equity in their homes and become more at risk of cybercrimes and attempts to steal their personal information.
- Reason #2: Home title theft is easier than other types of theft. All a criminal has to do is get access to your information, file a simple form, transfer ownership of your title, which can often be done entirely from a computer using public records. Once they have it, they can start borrowing money against your property.
- Reason #3: People falsely believe they are protected. Identity theft protection services and home insurance does not protect you from home title theft. Many people don’t recognize this and as a result, they have a false sense of security which leaves them vulnerable to attempts by criminals.
How Criminals Steal Your Home Title
Unfortunately, it’s relatively easy for criminals to gain access to your home title. Here’s how it happens:
Step 1: A criminal scours public records to find homes with high equity. Then they get your information by downloading your title from your county's website.
Step 2: The criminal removes you from your home's title by forging their name on a document and refiling it, which can actually be done in a matter of minutes. You can see an example of the paperwork they would need to fill out and refile on this page. The county records office will not automatically notify you of any changes that have been made to your title.
Step 3: Once the criminal has access to your title, they take out loans or refinance, or sell the home to make money off of you. In many cases, they use fake names to make their criminal activity hard to trace.
As you can see, the process is relatively simple for a criminal to complete, and potentially devastating to any homeowners who fall victim to the scheme.
Signs That Your Home Title Has Been Stolen
Although home title theft isn’t always easy to detect until it’s much too late, there are a few telltale signs that should lead you to investigate:
- Mail from an unfamiliar lender
- No mail from your existing lender
- Default notices on loans you didn’t take out
- Someone else’s name on property or tax documents
- Unable to take out loans or credit
For more signs to look out for, read through our comprehensive guide to home title fraud.
The Easiest Way to Protect Yourself From Home Title Theft
If you’re worried about a criminal stealing your home title, consider using a home title protection service like Home Title Lock.
Home Title Lock can give you peace of mind by providing you with a comprehensive report that tells you about recent activity relating to your title, sending you real-time monitoring and alerts when changes are made to your title, and giving you access to financial support and helpful resources in the event that you find yourself the victim of a crime.