What is deed fraud, and How You Can Protect Yourself?

Imagine coming home to find that you are on someone else’s property. 

The scammers picked your home to take, did some basic internet research to find out your personal information, and created fake ID’s. From there they obtained the proper forms, forged your signature, and filed the papers with the authorities. They own your home. You have been a victim of deed fraud.  

Unfortunately, many homeowners do not know how to spot — let along protect themselves from — real estate fraud. The American Bar Association highlights some of the many ways scammers can get your home out from under you, including: 

  • “Saving” you from foreclosure. Scammers say that you can transfer the title to them for a small amount of time, paying rent to them instead of your mortgage, so you can catch up. Instead, these people often sell the home once they have the title in their name, and you are still stuck paying the mortgage.
  • The Straw-Man Scheme. Essentially, a scammer gets a mortgage on a home by providing the credit history of a “straw-man,” or a less skilled criminal. The scammer then gets the straw man to sign over the deed, which often nets the straw man some money. In the end, the straw man is often the person who gets prosecuted for this crime.
  • Illegal house-flipping. The criminals purchase a home, maybe make some minor improvements, and then sell the home for much more than it is worth. By the time you realize that your home’s value is way lower than what you paid for it, it is too late.

The possibilities are endless, and scammers often leave long and complicated trails of fake information to sift through. So how can you protect yourself against these sophisticated criminals? According to the FBI, the best thing to do is stay vigilant by regularly checking in at the county deeds office. All of the records related to homes and businesses are stored in the deeds office and are public information. By checking regularly, you can tip off the proper authorities if and when you find a forged signature or any other suspect information in your home’s file.

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