Beware Your Home Can Be Stolen

Monday, July 20, 2009, 5:04 AM | Leave Comment

House stealing is a fast-growing and easy scam. Once a home is targeted – vacant ones are preferred, but occupied residences are also vulnerable – scammers find out who owns it by searching public records.

Excerpts from AARP Bulletin:

Teresa Bidwell learned that her house had been stolen when contractors she hired to make minor renovations found another crew already there—and much of the Philadelphia row home gutted.

“My guys called me to ask if I had hired other contractors,” says the 45-year-old business owner. “I hadn’t.”

Instead, her property had been sold for just $5,000, and the new “owner” hired the unexpected workmen. “Unknown to me, the deed was transferred to her name, and she had that as proof I had ‘sold’ it,” Bidwell told the AARP Bulletin. Her signature had been forged. “I spent more than one year, $16,000 and a lot of hassles to get back my house.”

Armed with property records, crooks can purchase $10 property transfer forms at any office supply store. The signatures of “sellers” are forged, and paperwork is filed with the city or county recorder’s office.

In many states, deed recorders and those who oversee property closings are not required to authenticate the identities of buyers or sellers. Some crooks simply create fake IDs, stealing the real homeowner’s identity.

How do you protect your own home?

  • From time to time, check all property records with your local deed recorder or register’s office to ensure all documents and signatures are legitimate.
  • If you receive a payment book or other information about a loan that isn’t yours, “whether your name is on the envelope or not, don’t just throw it away,” advises the FBI website. “Open it, and follow up with the company that sent it.”
  • Some deed-recording offices use software that alerts homeowners whenever a transfer is made on their property. If yours doesn’t, ask why not.

In a Nutshell
If you discover your home has been stolen, immediately report it to your district attorney or state attorney general’s office.

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