When I think of house stealing I think of squatters and home invasion. Well, recently con artists have turned to identity theft to steal your home. The FBI reports that house stealing combines two of the nation’s fastest growing crimes, identity theft and mortgage fraud.
Con artists start the process by choosing a house; it could be a vacant vacation property or your year-round residence. They then research the owner of the house and obtain as much information as possible to create a fake ID and Social Security card. Once they have your personal information, they get forms to transfer property. Using the fake ID and forging your signature, they file paperwork asserting to the property authorities that the property has been sold or transferred and the house becomes theirs. Cuyahoga County Recorder Patrick O'Malley told CBS evening news correspondent Randall Pinkston that “Anyone with ill intent could actually fraudulently transfer property from an honest owner to a dishonest owner, without the honest owner even knowing it."
The FBI report cites a scam that occurred last year in Los Angeles: A real estate business owner in Southeast Los Angeles pled guilty to leading a scam that defrauded more than 100 homeowners and lenders out of some $12 million. She promised to help struggling homeowners pay their mortgages by refinancing their loans. Instead, she and her partners in crime used stolen identities or “straw buyers” to purchase these homes. They then pocketed the money they borrowed but never made any mortgage payments. In the process, the true owners lost the title to their homes and the banks were out the money they had loaned to fake buyers.
There are a couple of ways that you can prevent this from happening. If you receive information from your mortgage company that isn’t yours, but is sent to your address, open it immediately and contact the mortgage company and local police. Once every six months, check with your county deeds office to make sure that no paperwork or signatures you don’t recognize are included in your file. If you find that someone has victimized you, contact your local police, your mortgage company, and the county deeds office right away.