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How to Avoid Title Fraud on Your Property

Michael J Van Zandt


  • Title fraud on property is a serious threat that can leave homeowners in financial ruin.
  • Homeowners may discover unauthorized loans and foreclosure notices on their property due to a forged deed.
  • Sadly, it's very easy to file fraudulent deeds with the County Clerk's Office.
  • The risk of title fraud is considered smaller than identity theft, but there is a higher chance of it being committed by family members or caregivers, especially for seniors.
  • To combat title fraud, homeowners should check online records regularly and report any suspicious activity promptly, and only report their financial and personal information to trustworthy sources.
How to Avoid Title Fraud on Your Property Gentry

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You have owned your beautiful home for ten years.  You are one-third of the way to paying off your mortgage. You have enough money to pay your mortgage, buy groceries, pay utility bills and save a little for retirement. Then your financial life is shattered.

The first notice you receive is that you have failed to pay on a $350,000 loan on your property that you knew nothing about and the second notice is that your home is being foreclosed for failure to repay a $500,000 loan, also secured by your home. The notices come from two different lenders that you do not recognize. 

You contact your title company and discover that there is a satisfaction of your primary mortgage that was filed on your house. Next you discover that your home was transferred by deed to another party and refinanced for $500,000 as a new primary loan. You then discover that there is a second mortgage on your home for $350,000. You obtain copies of all these documents and see that your name has been forged on the deed. There is a notary stamp and notary signature on these documents, all from the same notary. 

You report the matter to the local police. The police tell you that no such person exists that is the grantee on your deed and the notary does not appear anywhere in the licensed notary lists of your state. As for the $850,000, there is no trace of who obtained it or where it went.

You now must hire an attorney to stop the foreclosure and get your house back. The lending institution is not very sympathetic and goes forward with the sale of your home. You are forced to move and are left with a judgment against you because the house sells for only $300,000, leaving you with a debt of $550,000 plus the costs of the foreclosure. 

There is a break in your case. The police call to tell you they think they know who has forged your deed. The police bring him in for questioning but they have little evidence and do not know what crime to charge him with. After a brief interrogation, they let him go. 

This unbelievable story has happened many times across the country, committed by very sophisticated thieves, many of whom are never caught. Homeowners across the nation are being victimized by these criminals and their financial lives are in ruin. Even if they are able to recover the home, the victims will be out $50,000 or more in legal expenses, just to set things right.

You might be surprised how easy it is to file a document with the County Clerk's Office. You just walk in and hand the document to the clerk.  This is usually done by messenger.  The clerk date and time stamps it and it is filed in your chain of title. There is no check by the clerk's office on the authenticity of the document and the only notice is the mailing address on the document which need not be your address.  

The FBI has reported no more than 9600 such crimes from 2017 to 2020, a miniscule number compared to the number of homes owned in the country. Thus, the chances of experiencing title fraud are very small compared to identity theft. The reality is that there is a significantly higher chance that title or mortgage fraud is committed by a family member or a caregiver. 

Marin County in California has created a title fraud initiative because so many of the county's citizens are senior and vulnerable to being tricked out of their homes. In a partnership between the Assessor-Recorder's office and the district attorney, the county will promptly investigate any claims of title fraud. The county officials recommend the following steps to help prevent title fraud. 

  1. Check the county recorder often using the online records search tool to ensure there are no deeds or mortgages you don't know about on your property. 
  2. If your property is not occupied, check often to ensure it is not occupied illegally. Ask someone you trust to look after your home if you are going to be away for an extended period.  
  3. Do not let mail pile up if you are going out of town. 
  4. Make sure the assessor and tax collector have your correct address for you to receive notices. Contact the assessor and tax collector if you suddenly stop receiving notices. 
  5. Report all suspected fraud to the district attorney immediately.

Several companies sell title fraud protection and given the unlikely occurrence of title fraud, one wonders if it is worth the cost. The companies promise to protect your title and to correct any problems up to $1,000,000.  Like the companies that promise to protect you against identity theft and credit card fraud, title fraud companies can only protect you after your title is compromised. For identity theft, you can easily check your credit by accessing one of the credit agency sites. For a small fee the credit agency will send you a copy of your credit report and credit score. That way you can see who is checking your credit and for what purpose. If required you can lock your credit so that no one can use your credit but you. Many banks and credit unions allow free access to the credit agencies. 

For title theft and fraud, the steps outlined above are sufficient to ensure that your title is not compromised.  As with most attempts to be proactive, these steps only work if you are disciplined enough to actually check the county records. You cannot hide your street address or prevent someone from researching your title with the county. However, you can ask your credit card companies to alert you to suspicious activity and periodic checks on your credit can alleviate apprehension.

Title fraud, though scary, is not as easy as it would seem. Lending institutions, title companies and realtors are all doing their due diligence to ensure the identity and authenticity of the people involved in the transactions. Credit checks, income tax statements, bank statements, financial statements are all checked and double checked to ensure that there is no fraud in the process. Investigative agencies are available to check the worthiness of applicants and to make sure that there is no criminal activity or adverse judgments in the past history of the applicants. Make sure you are dealing with reputable companies and make sure you only trust your personal and financial information to those you truly can trust.