A growing issue in our market that owners and buyers should be aware of is title fraud (also called title/deed theft). It's not extremely common, but it does happen and can be devastating when it does.
The crime occurs when a fraudster steals your personal information and uses it to file a fraudulent/forged purchase agreement and deed, transferring your property into their name. They may then resell the property, rent it out, or take out financing against it.
Who's most at risk?
Owners that have non-owner occupied residences, such as long-vacant homes or vacation rentals, with low or no debt on the asset are the most likely victims of title fraud. When the owner isn't attending to a property and related mail, scam artists can steal their property months or years before they find out.
Once this happens, getting your property back if you're the owner or reclaiming your deposit/purchase funds if you're the buyer can be legally challenging and costly.
There are a few sensible things to do to protect yourself from title fraud as an owner or buyer. The first is purchasing an 'enhanced' title insurance policy that will guard you against loss in the event of an unauthorized transfer.
The next thing to do is request that the county recorder or register of deeds put an alert on your deed to notify you if a transfer is requested. Additionally, ensure mail is monitored, and keep an eye on your credit report for any unusual information, inquiries, or loans.
Finally, be wary when buying a house that's been vacant for an extended period and where the deal is too good to be true.
One more thing: Always work with a Realtor. We adhere to a code of ethics, have the experience to spot suspicious activity in a transaction, and will make sure your interests are fully protected. -Henry