Home title theft, AKA deed fraud, occurs when criminals steal a property title by imitating homeowners. There’s a chance you’ve heard about this scam on the news or from a home insurance ad. Today, we’ll discuss how home title theft works, its warning signs, and how identity theft protection services like LifeLock Ultimate Plus can help protect your identity from bad actors.
What is home title theft?
Home title theft is a felony offense, as it involves identity theft and forgery.
Thieves will impersonate homeowners to forge deeds and borrow mortgages under someone else’s name. Criminals might also create fake IDs and Social Security numbers to pull off more elaborate schemes.
Thankfully, there are plenty of safeguards to catch criminals in the act. When someone buys a house, for example, title companies extensively research property sellers to ensure the transaction is legally sound. Every county in the United States also has a County Registrar-Recorder who carefully watches over sensitive documents for thousands of residents.
How common is home title theft?
The FBI currently categorizes real estate fraud with broad strokes—and there were 11,727 reported instances of it in 2022. Unfortunately, we don’t know exactly how many of these accounted for home title thefts, as opposed to other types of real estate scams like rental scams, but we do know they helped make up the large
How is a deed stolen?
Deeds are the physical documents that reflect homeownership—and criminals might try to steal deeds through a variety of surprising methods. Their tactics can include impersonating legal organizations, breaching sensitive data, and simply digging through trash cans. Here are some of the most common ways home title theft occurs.
Phishing is a scam in which cybercriminals pose as legitimate companies to lure you into providing sensitive information. Phishing scammers may send you sketchy emails for days, weeks, or months. Some of these emails can be fairly convincing, but your instincts can clue you into the scam. Being careful with your Social Security number is always one of your best defenses.
A phone call from an unknown number could be a scammer in the works. Criminals who try to steal deeds through phone scams might try to trick you into giving verbal consent for a title transfer. The more brazen among them might even ask for credit card info or Social Security numbers.
Hacking public Wi-Fi
Almost anyone can connect to public Wi-Fi—including a hacker, who can transfer malware onto unsecured devices. Using a virtual private network (VPN) can help encrypt, or in other words disguise, your browsing activity and prevent malicious parties from tracking it.
One man’s trash can be another man’s treasure trove of personal information. A scammer may rifle through your rubbish, AKA dumpster dive, in hopes of finding credit cards or ID numbers. If you ever have to discard a credit card or government document, shred it before you toss it.
Intercepting mail is one of the oldest ways a criminal can commit fraud, and mail theft is also a felony offense. Routinely checking your mailbox can rob that opportunity from a would-be thief. Conversely, report any missing documents as soon as possible to help authorities catch the culprit.
Home title theft and identity theft go hand in hand. Taking active steps to protect your deed might also help you protect your personal information.
Signs of home title theft
Have you suddenly stopped receiving important documents in the mail? Perhaps you’ve spotted strange items on your credit report. These are two signs that home title theft may be at play. Other examples include:
- Receiving strange or unexpected bills in the mail.
- Missing items from your credit report.
- Getting phone calls from lenders you haven’t contacted.
- Drastic changes or increases to your utility bills.
However, certain events might clue you into a scam before it unfolds; people lingering around your trash cans or mailboxes might indicate that someone is trying to steal your information.
What to do if your home title is stolen
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers guidelines for anyone who’s experienced home title theft and for anyone who believes they may experience this fraud in the future:
- Contact any companies where you’ve detected fraudulent activity.
- Place a fraud alert and request credit reports from the major credit bureaus.
- Report your identity theft case to the FTC.
- File an official report with your local police department.
Experiencing home title theft can be very alarming and frustrating, but it’s important to take action swiftly—and to be thorough when speaking with the authorities.
5 tips to prevent home title theft
Some of the best defenses against identity theft also apply to home title theft. Several examples include:
- Be careful with sensitive info: Don’t give out your Social Security number or driver’s license number to unverified sources. Not everyone claiming to work for the government actually does.
- Shred documents: Dumpster-diving scammers are often looking for discarded letters and documents that contain sensitive info. Shredding documents before you trash them doesn’t leave thieves with much to work with.
- Use a VPN: A virtual private network provides many benefits, like hiding private information while you use public Wi-Fi.
- Monitor your credit: An alarming change on your credit report can be a telltale sign of home title theft. Regularly monitor your credit and request a free report from each of the three major credit bureaus once a year.
- Use county consumer notification services: Many counties provide free updates for any activities involving your properties. You can find out if your county is eligible by looking up “title notifications'' for your area.
You can reduce the risk of experiencing home title theft by learning as much as you can about this scam—and by using every resource available.
Help keep your home title safe with LifeLock Ultimate Plus
Let's face it: Not everyone has the time to keep an eye on their home title 24/7. That’s where protection services like LifeLock Ultimate Plus can come in to do the heavy lifting for you. With home title monitoring, Social Security number alerts, and three-bureau credit monitoring, you can rest easy knowing that LifeLock is helping to protect your home title and identity.