You may have decided to rent or sell your home and look for a renter or buyer. You find someone who seems great, and they say they’re interested in renting or buying your home. They even have the money to do so.
But then, something strange happens. Instead of going through with the sale or rental, this person disappears with your deed.
Suddenly, you have no home and no way to get it back. This is deed fraud, and it’s a serious problem that can leave you homeless without any legal recourse.
What is Deed Fraud?
Deed fraud occurs when someone steals your deed and uses it to sell or borrow against your home. Whether you own a house, condo, or even land, this can happen.
The thief doesn’t need to live in your home to commit deed fraud; all they need is access to your deed.
Once the thief has your deed, they can change the ownership of your property, take out a loan against it, or even sell it outright. And because the deed is in their name, you have no legal recourse.
You may not even realize that your home has been sold until you try to sell it yourself or are served with eviction papers.
There are three warning signs to look out for that may mean you have become a victim of fraud:
- You notice from your mortgage lender that you are behind on your payments, even though you have made them on time.
- You are contacted by a debt collector for a loan you did not take out.
- Your property taxes suddenly go up, even though the value of your home has not changed.
If you see any of these warning signs, it’s important to act quickly. Contact your local police department and file a report. You should also contact an attorney specializing in real estate law to help you protect your rights and recover your home.
How Can You Avoid Deed Fraud?
Although it makes take some time and effort, there are steps you can take to avoid deed fraud:
Contact a Real Estate Attorney
If you’re planning on selling or renting your home, it’s important to be aware of deed fraud and how to avoid it. One way to help protect yourself is to contact a real estate attorney.
Find one who will prepare a quit claim deed for you such that if your deed is stolen, you can quickly file a claim to get your home back.
An attorney can also help you investigate any suspicious activity surrounding your home. If someone tries to sell your home without your knowledge, an attorney can help you track down the thief and get your home back.
Contact Law Enforcement
If you believe your deed has been stolen, contact your local police department or the FBI. This will help them keep an eye out for any suspicious activity and may help them catch the thief before they can do any damage.
Special task forces are designated to crack down on individuals who commit deed fraud, so your information will help catch the perpetrator.
These investigations can take months or even years, but it’s important to report the crime as soon as possible.
Consider Getting Title Insurance
Title insurance protects you from losses due to title defects or deed fraud. Lenders typically require it, but it’s something you may want to consider even if you’re not borrowing money. Title insurance is cost-effective to protect yourself from losses due to title defects or deed fraud.
It typically costs around $200-$300 per year, a small price for peace of mind. Title insurance is a good investment, especially if you’re selling or renting your home.
It can help protect you from financial losses if the property is sold or mortgaged without your knowledge.
Monitor Your Credit Report
You should also monitor your credit report for any changes or red flags that could indicate fraud. You’re entitled to one free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus every year.
Check for any unusual activity, such as new accounts opened in your name or inquiries from companies you don’t recognize.
Contact the credit bureau and file a dispute if you see anything suspicious. The bureau will then investigate the activity and remove any fraudulent information from your report. This will help you protect your credit score and keep you from being a victim of identity theft.
Keep Your Deed in a Safe Place
Don’t leave your deed out in the open, where it can be easily stolen. Keep it in a fireproof safe or locked filing cabinet.
It would help if you also considered storing it in a safety deposit box at your bank. Be sure to keep it in a secure location that only you have access to.
You should also avoid giving anyone your personal information, as this could be used to commit identity theft or fraud.
This also includes your personal information, such as your Social Security number or birth date. Don’t walk around with your deed in your purse or wallet, as this could make it easy for a thief to take it.
Get a Home Equity Line of Credit
If you have equity in your home, you can take out a home equity line of credit (HELOC). This will give you access to funds should you need them, but the lender will place a lien on your home.
A HELOC can be a great financial safety net if you encounter unforeseen expenses.
By having a loan backed by your home’s equity, you can rest assured knowing that you have the funds to cover unexpected costs.
If you find yourself in a situation where you need to use your HELOC, be sure only to borrow what you need and make your payments on time to avoid any negative consequences.
Deed fraud is a serious crime that can leave you homeless and in debt. But by taking some simple precautions, you can avoid becoming a victim.
Be sure to store your deed in a safe place, monitor your credit report, and contact a real estate attorney before signing any documents. With a little bit of knowledge and effort, you can help protect yourself from deed fraud.