31 May Are Fake Deeds Fake News? 6 Ways to Protect Against Attempted Theft of Your Property Title
Scams seem to be increasing daily. Deed fraud (attempted transfer of property without the knowledge and consent of the true owner) could be on the rise. Criminals sometime forge deeds, have the deed notarized and record it with the county clerk where the property is located. They may give the notary a fraudulent identification or counterfeit a notary’s signature or work with a dishonest notary. After recording, the criminal may try to sell the property (without the use of a title company) or lease the property if the property was vacant (typically vacation or rental properties).
Although you can’t prevent attempted title thefts, there are several ways to reduce risk or catch it early.
- Check the deed records of the county where the property is located.
If you check the deed records (which you can often do online), you can see if there was any type of transfer. If you are buying, this will also give you an idea if you see a quick sale especially if by a quitclaim deed (which title companies would often disregard due to no warranty).
- Buy title insurance.
Whenever you buy property, it is advised to buy title insurance. A title insurance company will research the deed and probate records prior to issuing good title. Another form of title insurance protects you after you buy a home if there are unforeseen liens or claims.
- Check your credit report.
It is possible criminals will try to steal your identity. If you check with the credit reporting agencies (i.e., Experian, Equifax and Transunion), then you might be alerted that there is a problem if your credit score is substantially lower. Also, if you see items such as unfamiliar lenders or mortgages, this would be an indication of fraud.
- Review bill and mail.
If you don’t get your utility, mortgage statements or property tax statements, this could be a red flag that the criminal has scammed you by changing the address where the bill is sent. Also, if you get a notice of foreclosure on property you don’t own, it is an indication of identity theft.
- Shred statements that have your personal information such as your Social Security Number.
Don’t just throw away information with your personal information, you should shred it before throwing it away. Unlike the old days, even legal documents such as wills or powers of attorney must have Social Security numbers redacted before filing.
- Set up for fraud alert services.
Certain counties in Texas have free fraud alert services which allow users to sign up for alerts when deeds, mortgages, or other related real estate transactions are made on property you own. You can often be alerted by email. In the event a deed is forged, you may have to file a lawsuit to get the cloud on title removed (besides reporting to police, contacting credit agencies, etc.) even though a forged deed is void as a matter of law.
Title monitoring services do not stop criminals from committing fraud in attempts to steal the title to your home. It is still likely you would have to hire an attorney to get clear title. One title monitoring service company is even being investigated by the Texas AG for deceptive trade practices for striking fear in property owners and misleading the services they perform. Title monitoring is different from title insurance (which does give the property owner protection in defending your title including legal fees – although it cannot prevent attempted fraud).
Since a forged deed is void as a matter of law, your property title is not actually stolen. However due to the potential cost, time and aggravation in dealing with the fraudsters and their actions, steps should be taken to reduce risk.
If interested in learning more about this article or other estate planning, Medicaid and public benefits planning, probate, etc., attend one of our free upcoming Estate Planning Essentials workshops by clicking here or calling 214-720-0102. We make it simple to attend and it is without obligation.