Identity theft has been a hot topic for some time in the media with the most well-known and reported type being Financial Identity Theft. A little known, but very real, variety of Identity theft is called Property Fraud or Deed Fraud.
Property Fraud or Deed Fraud occurs when a criminal steals your identity, forges your name on a deed and takes the title to your home. Also known as “house-stealing”, this is a fast-growing while collar crime across the United States.
When recording deeds, the registries of deeds check that the format of deeds is proper, the deed is signed and that the signature is notarized. However, registries typically do not compare signatures on record for forgeries or otherwise inquire about a deed’s legitimacy.
As long as the document is properly filed and the fees are paid, the document will be entered into the Official Records.
Historically, this type of fraud can go undetected for a long while and cause multiple problems for the actual homeowner. It may seem that it would be a simple matter to regain official home ownership after becoming a victim of deed fraud, but that is far from the case.
Depending on the case, the return of official title to the owner can be at the cost of thousands in legal fees.
In Tennessee, Washington and Davidson counties offer free property fraud alert services. Hopefully, Hamilton County will follow suit in the near future.
Until then, you can protect yourself by following these three steps:
1. Monitor your credit reports
Federal law provides you with the right to have a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Monitoring your credit report can help you discover financial actions taken by others in your name.
You can leverage your free annual credit report into one report every four months. For instance, you can request your free credit report from Equifax, and then four months later get your free credit report from Experian, and then another four months later obtain your free credit report from TransUnion. You can get your free credit reports through AnnualCreditReport.com.
You also can get credit monitoring through various identity theft protection services.
2. Check the status of your deed
Hamilton county residents can check the status of their deed at assessor.hamiltontn.gov.
You should regularly check on the status of your deed to confirm that no one has done anything affecting your property ownership.
3. Consider buying an owner’s title insurance policy Owner’s title insurance can offer significant protection from the harm caused by deed fraud and can cover the costs involved in correcting the problem.