BBB received a call from a consumer this week about ads for services claiming to protect people from fraudulent property title transfers. The consumer wanted to know if this really could happen. The short answer is yes. Home title fraud happens when someone obtains the title to your property and changes ownership from your information to theirs. The scary part is you may not even realize it until it’s too late.
Here is how the scam works: Scammers will pick a house, sometimes a second home, rental or vacant house. Gathering personal information from the internet or elsewhere, they take over your identity and assume the role of property owner or claim to represent you. They file the necessary paperwork to transfer ownership of your property to themselves, using forged signatures and fraudulent identification. They then sell the home or borrow against the equity. You might not even know this has happened until a lender starts to send letters of foreclosure on your home due to failure to make payments.
Protect yourself against this scam
Be careful with your personal information. Treat your personal information like the valuable commodity it is. Make sure you shred any documents that have your bank account information, Social Security number or other personal information. Be suspicious of any unsolicited communication asking for personal information.
Check your credit reports regularly for unauthorized inquiries and accounts. In the U.S., you have the right to check your credit report with each of the three major credit bureaus once per year at annualcreditreport.com. Due to COVID-19, you can receive free online reports weekly through April 2021. This is the only free credit reporting service authorized by the Federal Trade Commission. Space these checks out across the year, and you will know fairly quickly if something is wrong.
Look for unexplained withdrawals, charges and accounts. Review your bank account and credit card statements regularly. Look for unfamiliar charges, accounts or withdrawals. Know when your bills are due; one tip-off for identity theft is when you stop receiving certain bills. This can happen because scammers have changed the address associated with your bank account or credit card. If bills don’t arrive on time, follow up with your creditors. Debt collectors may call you about debts that aren’t yours. You can also set up automatic alerts on your accounts so you are notified every time a transaction is made.
Check with your local recorder of deeds. Look for deeds that you or anyone representing you did not prepare or sign periodically. Make sure they have the correct mailing address for you. Some counties provide a consumer notification services anytime a document is recorded on your property.
If your identity has been stolen
File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. The Federal Trade Commission recommends that you create an ID theft report if your ID is stolen. This report will help you deal with the credit reporting agencies and companies that extended credit to the identity thief using your name. First, report the crime to the FTC and print a copy of the details. Contact FTC at 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338) or identitytheft.gov.
File a report with local law enforcement. Keep all records of your case, police reports and supporting documents; these may be needed by credit card companies or banks to prove innocence.
File a report with the FBI. Contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3): ic3.gov.
Place a “fraud alert” or “freeze” on your credit reports. Contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit reporting agencies. Let them know you’ve been a victim of identity theft and ask questions – including what protection is provided and if there are any costs – to determine whether a fraud alert or freeze is best for your situation:
• Experian: 1-888-397-3742.
• TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289.
• Equifax: 1-800-766-0008.
Notify all credit grantors and financial institutions. Check the status on existing accounts, as they may have been jeopardized. Find out if there is any unauthorized activity or new accounts have been fraudulently opened in your name. You may be advised to close some or all of your accounts. Create new passwords and change your PINs.
Read more about housing scams in BBB’s Scam Alert on foreclosure rescue scams.
If you encounter a scam, we ask that you report it to our BBB Scam Tracker at bbb.org/scamtracker, and you can learn more about common scams at bbb.org/scamtips.
Kelvin Collins is president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving the Fall Line Corridor, serving 77 counties in East Alabama, West Georgia, Southwest Georgia, Central Georgia, East Georgia and Western South Carolina. This tips column is provided through the local BBB and the Council of Better Business Bureaus. The Better Business Bureau sets standards for ethical business behavior, monitors compliance and helps consumers identify trustworthy businesses. Questions or complaints about a specific company or charity should be referred directly to the BBB by phone at 800-763-4222, online at bbb.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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