by Dan Krell
Identity theft and mortgage fraud continue to plague the nation; both crimes are an ongoing concern for law enforcement. Earlier this year, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI.gov) reported that these types of crimes were increasing, as well as a new disturbing trend in real estate related crimes called “house stealing.”
You may have heard of identity theft; but maybe you did not know that once a perpetrator steals your identity, they can defraud others in many ways. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC.gov) states that besides unauthorized use of your credit cards, perpetrators can use your information to get jobs, healthcare services, social services, and open new accounts (including mortgages, utilities and credit cards).
In January, the FBI reported that there were over 1,200 open cases of mortgage fraud. Most of these cases were “fraud for profit,” where a scheme was used to flip homes to get cash and allow the home to go into foreclosure. Other cases involve corporate schemes and possible insider trading.
So what is house stealing? The FBI reported earlier this year that house stealing is a hybrid crime that is a combination of identity theft and mortgage fraud. There are several forms of house stealing, but essentially the perpetrator will fraudulently take title to your home or steal your identity to ultimately sell your home and disappear with the cash. This can even occur while you are occupying your home!
Perpetrators of house stealing will obtain your personal information much like other identity thieves, and use the information to sell your home. Although the end result is to take the cash from selling your home, the crime can occur by the perpetrator fraudulently taking title to your home and then selling it “for sale by owner” (usually providing little or no information to prospects), or the perpetrator can act as if they are you and list your home with a real estate agent (sometimes the agent may be in cahoots with the perpetrator).
The FBI only recently publicized this new trend as they prosecuted a woman in California who pleaded guilty to devising a scheme to defraud over 100 homeowners and $12 million from lenders (www.fbi.gov/page2/march08/housestealing_032508.html).
In their report, the FBI concedes that there is not much you can do to prevent a house stealing crime other than being vigilant; this may be due to the fact that most people do not go to the county court house on a regular basis to check the deed to their home. However, the FBI recommends that you check documents and signatures filed in the court house “from time to time.” Any discrepancies should be looked into (and reported to authorities) immediately.
Fortunately, there is more you can do to protect your identity. The NAR, in conjunction with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC.gov), has published a brochure called, “AvoID Theft: Deter, Detect, Defend.” The FTC attempts to educate consumers about identity theft; it is recommended that that you become aware of how these crimes occur so you can defend yourself from perpetrators, monitor your information regularly to spot any irregularities, and be prepared with a plan if you are a victim of identity theft. More information about protecting yourself from identity theft can be obtained from the FTC and FBI (and their corresponding websites).
This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. This article was originally published in the Montgomery County Sentinel the week of November 3, 2008. Copyright © 2008 Dan Krell.