Is title theft cause for concern?

You may have heard advertisements warning you that thieves can steal your home by forging your name on a deed. Purportedly, these bad actors can then resell the property or take out a mortgage loan to drain the equity and “stick” you with the mortgage payments.

In such cases, the forger hasn’t actually acquired the rights to your property. It’s more like a case of identity theft in which the fraudster can subsequently fool someone into “buying” your property or trick a lender into issuing a mortgage against it.

As the true property owner, you now have a legal mess to clean up. Unless you can get the defrauded buyer or lender to disclaim their interest in the property, you will have to file a lawsuit to clear the title. The longer the fraud goes undetected, the more involved the legal case will be. You will, however, have no legal obligation to repay the forger’s loan.

It’s up for debate just how common title fraud is. The process of stealing someone’s identity, forging a notarized deed and getting it past local county officials isn’t easy. Criminals are most likely to target people who may miss notices, such as the elderly and people who own multiple second homes or investment properties.

That said, there is some security and convenience involved in having someone monitor your titles. But be aware of what you’re buying. Theft protection companies will notify you if they detect someone tampering with your title or mortgage, but they may not cover the legal fees necessary to resolve the problem.

You can protect yourself against this kind of identity theft, for free, by regularly checking your property records with your county’s register of deeds, which can be done online.

If you notice something is off, act quickly to notify your local register of deeds and law enforcement. Consult with an experienced real estate attorney who can help confirm ownership of the property. Again, the sooner you notice the fraud and act, the easier the issue will be to resolve.

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