“You bought a new house, congratulations,” read the letter addressed to Masooda Persia Hashimi. The house where Rohina Husseini lives in Springfield, Va.
Husseini had no idea someone could steal a house, but the first small
clue that the home she owned for nearly a decade was no longer hers was a
piece of junk mail that most of us ignore.
Springfield mother said she initially tossed the mortgage refinancing
offers that began arriving over the summer in the trash, but one detail
bugged her: The letters were addressed to another woman. Curious,
Husseini said she finally opened one.
“You bought a new house, congratulations,” read the letter addressed to Masooda Persia Hashimi.
was like, ‘Wow, this doesn’t seem right,’ ” Husseini said. “I don’t
know this person at all. She never lived in my house even before [I
the frantic hours that followed, Husseini discovered the total stranger
was now the legal owner of the brick Colonial worth about $525,000 that
forms the center of her life with her husband and daughter.
who owns a home health-care business, was the victim of a lesser-known
crime alternately called house stealing or deed theft that has seen an
uptick in some areas in recent years. Scammers gain control of a deed to
a home and then attempt to resell the property or to open a line of
credit on it.
results can be disastrous. Unsuspecting homeowners can be foreclosed
upon or even find strangers living in an unoccupied property or vacation
home that has been sold out from under them.
“Oftentimes, the [scammers] will offer a stolen home at an attractive
price just below the market rate for an area so it is snapped up
quickly,” said Cynthia Blair, the former president of the American Land
Title Association. “They get a cash purchaser . . . and [the scammers]
are off into the sunset with the money.”
to the junk mail tip-off, Husseini avoided one of those worst-case
scenarios, but she is living another nightmare: trying to wrest back
control of her home. The process can cost rightful owners tens of
thousands of dollars and months of court hearings.
It’s easier than you might think to steal a home.
ordeal began in May. Husseini’s ex-boyfriend walked into a Fairfax City
law firm and passed himself off as Husseini, according to Fairfax
County police and a lawsuit Husseini has filed. Edress Hamid told the
attorney he was headed overseas as part of a military deployment and
wanted to transfer control of his home to his wife, Masooda Persia
Hashimi, according to the lawsuit.
woman accompanied Hamid and introduced herself as Hashimi, according to
the lawsuit, which names Hamid and Hashimi as defendants. The lawsuit
claims the attorney failed to check their identities, a basic step that
could have headed off the fraud, before transferring the title to
May 9, Hamid presented the phony deed to the Fairfax County land
records office, and Hashimi became the official owner of Husseini’s
home, according to the lawsuit. In the weeks that followed, Husseini
began receiving the odd junk mail.
said she immediately jumped into researching what was going on after
opening the piece of junk mail in July, a surreal process in which it
gradually dawned on her that her home was in someone else’s hands.
said she called the Fairfax County land records office, which told her
that her name was not listed as the owner of her home. Increasingly
worried, Husseini headed directly to the Fairfax County courthouse and
demanded the actual deed.
read it with terror and confusion. It said she had granted her property
to Hashimi on May 6. She flipped the page and saw the signatures — hers
was not her own.
“I was shocked,” Husseini said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, what is this?’ ”
visited the law firm that had carried out the deed transfer, but she
got few answers. She called her mortgage company, which told her they
got no notice of the deed transfer. She finally concluded a scam had
took her case to the Fairfax County police in August. After an
investigation, Hamid was charged in a warrant with forging a deed and
passing off a fraudulent record to the land records office in Husseini’s
case, police said. Fairfax County police detective Joshua Linebaugh
said he is investigating a second case of deed fraud that authorities
think is linked to Hamid, although no charges have been placed.
County police do not know where Hamid and Hashimi are. Their last known
address was in Georgia. Hamid did not respond to requests for comment,
and no number could be located for Hashimi, who has not been charged.
Husseini hopes to persuade a Fairfax County judge to return her deed by the end of the year.
are no national figures on house theft, but gentrifying cities such as
New York and Philadelphia have reported increases in recent years and
have enacted new safeguards. Fraudsters have been scamming longtime
homeowners into turning over deeds through scam foreclosure help or
forging deeds in neighborhoods where housing values are rapidly
said the scam is also popular in markets where homes are unoccupied or
there are large numbers of vacation homes, because they make easier
said the best safeguard against deed fraud is title insurance that
protects against deed problems, while the head of the Fairfax County
financial crimes squad recommended vigilance.
owners should be diligent and check on family members who can’t do
their own checks, such as the elderly or those not occupying their
houses for a period of time,” said 2nd Lt. Jonathan Stern. “Have a good
awareness of your property.”
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