Q&A of the Day – How prevalent is home title theft?

Q&A of the Day – How prevalent is home title theft?

Each day I’ll feature a listener question that’s been submitted by one of these methods.

Email: brianmudd@iheartmedia.com

Twitter: @brianmuddradio

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Today’s entry: Have you heard the ad that Rudy Giuliani is doing for Home Title Lock? He spells out how to steal home titles in it, then says to protect yourself buy this product. It seems to me he is literally telling criminals how do steal titles! Do you know if this is really as prevalent as he makes it seem? Thanks for all you do to keep us safe and informed!!!

Bottom Line: I’ll start by saying home title theft is real, it’s been a creeping crud for a long time and that anyone who would successfully pull it off likely wouldn’t be activated based on an ad. I’ll explain all of those points...starting with what it is and when it was first identified as a meaningful threat.

In March of 2008, the FBI produced a report entitled: House Stealing – The Latest Scam on the Block. In the report they identified how the scam works and what homeowners should be aware of to avoid being victimized. According to the FBI, the process works like this:

Step 1: Con artists pick a house

Step 2: They assume the identity of the homeowner

Step 3: They transfer the deed of the house into their name

So, home title theft, or “house stealing”, is an advanced form of identity theft. It’s at this point that I’ll address your concern regarding potential thieves being given the idea to carry out this fraud by an ad. Is it possible to give someone an idea? I guess so. Is it at all likely? No. And the reason is this. This is ID theft on steroids. While a criminal has the ability to apply online for lines of credit and the like if they’ve successfully stolen your identity, the same isn’t true for title theft.

In order to successfully carry out the theft someone must first steal one’s identity, then create false photo ID’s with the victim’s information. They then must have legal documents prepared and notarized indicating the transfer of the property or desire to borrow against the property. Those who carry out these crimes successfully are sophisticated criminals. The timing of the FBI discovering this in 2008, at the end of the housing boom, was no coincidence. Many of the criminals who engaged in mortgage and related fraud transitioned to this form of fraud once mortgage companies began to clamp down on the types of loans they’d issue. So fast forward to the threat today.

While any property has the potential to be targeted by scam artists, those most often targeted are second/vacation homes and rentals. A home which isn’t a primary residence being stolen reduces the chance of owners receiving correspondence regarding changes until after the fraud has been fully carried out. Now, how common is this? The most recent FBI statistics are from 2017. In 2017 the FBI identified 9,600 Americans were victims of home title theft. That’s obviously a small number in the context of over 80 million homes owned in the United States, however it’s about as bad as it gets if you’re one of those 10,000 or so victims.

While I do recommend Identify theft protection for everyone, I don’t have a specific recommendation regarding the use of a service to monitor your home title. Here’s food for thought about those most at risk:

  • Those who have been victims of ID theft (at any point previously)
  • Owners of multiple properties
  • Properties of those recently deceased

So, there you go. And the more you know...

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