Property Title Theft: Rare but Rising during COVID-19
By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Military University
Identity theft continues to be a major concern for citizens in the United States and around the world. According to one identity theft study, more victims are paying out of pocket for fraud and there has been an increase in new account fraud where someone opens a new account under a victim’s name. This study found that the most common targets include mortgages, student loans, car loans, and credit cards.
Last year, there was over 3.2 million identity theft and fraud reports, but that only includes what was noticed and reported by victims. In terms of cybercrime, the Insurance Information Institute estimates that there is a loss to the global economy of $445 billion per year.
While it is rarer compared to other forms of identity theft and cybercrime, it is important for homeowners to be aware of property title theft. Some experts believe that property title theft is one of the fastest growing cybercrimes in the United States.
How Property Title Theft Occurs
Property title theft occurs when someone fraudulently obtains the title of a home or property through identity theft. The criminal steals the owner’s identity, forges a deed to change ownership on the title of the property, and has that deed recorded by local authorities. Once the theft occurs, the criminal can sell or borrow against the property that is now in his or her name.
For homeowners who fall victim to this crime, it can be a challenging and costly process to defend the ownership of their property. Identity thieves who engage in property title theft often target people who own second homes, abandoned homes, vacation homes that are not consistently occupied, the homes of recently deceased people, and investment properties.
Their goal is to make money on the home before the legitimate homeowner becomes aware that they are a victim. Victims may not become aware of the crime until a title search is conducted when the home is to be sold.
How Homeowners Can Avoid Becoming Victims
According to the Better Business Bureau (BBB), there are several steps homeowners can take to avoid becoming victims. Protecting personal information and being suspicious of unsolicited communication by someone asking for personal information is important. Homeowners should also regularly check their credit reports and frequently review bank statements.
The BBB also recommends knowing when your bills are due and to be alert for home-related bills that stop arriving. Scammers will often change the address associated with victims’ accounts, so homeowners won’t receive their normal bills. Another warning sign includes receiving bills that were not for authorized expenses.
The BBB advises checking to see if your county offers consumer notification services any time a document is recorded involving your property. You can also periodically check with your local recorder of deeds for suspicious behavior.
Reporting Property Title Theft
If you become a victim of property title theft, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and file a report with both local law enforcement and the FBI through their Internet Crime Complaint Center. Another option is to utilize a title theft protection company that will notify you immediately if they detect someone tampering with your title or mortgage.
Although property title theft is rare, identity theft and cybercrime have been increasing during the coronavirus pandemic. Ideally, homeowners should take every step possible to avoid becoming victims.
About the Author: Dr. Jarrod Sadulski is an associate professor with American Military University in the School of Security and Global Studies. Jarrod was selected as the Coast Guard’s Reserve McShan Inspirational Leadership Award recipient for 2019. He has engaged in speaking engagements in the United States, Europe, and Central America on the topic of human trafficking, local law enforcement’s response to domestic terrorism, and promoting resiliency from police stress. Most recently, he presented at the International Human Trafficking Conference. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering.
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