Title fraud protection

title fraud
Title fraud and house stealing (infographic from fbi.gov)

In the wake of the largest consumer data breach in history, ads for credit monitoring and other related services are flooding the airwaves.  One of these associated services is home title monitoring.  These commercials claim that they will protect you from home stealing and title fraud.  But what is home title monitoring and is it worthwhile?

According to a FBI report (fbi.gov) “House Stealing, the Latest Scam on the Block,” house stealing is a combination of two popular “rackets:” identity theft and mortgage fraud.  The 2008 report described a couple of versions of how the scam is perpetrated.  One form of this crime is committed by obtaining a cash-out mortgage posing as you to get a check at settlement.  Another form is committed by fraudulently taking title to your home and then selling the home for the proceeds.  Although fraudsters frequently target vacant homes, house stealing can also occur while you’re still occupying your home.  The FBI describes how scammers perpetrate house stealing and title fraud:

Here’s how it generally works:
-The con artists start by picking out a house to steal—say, YOURS.
-Next, they assume your identity—getting a hold of your name and personal information (easy enough to do off the Internet) and using that to create fake IDs, social security cards, etc.
-Then, they go to an office supply store and purchase forms that transfer property.
-After forging your signature and using the fake IDs, they file these deeds with the proper authorities, and lo and behold, your house is now THEIRS* [*Since the paperwork is fraudulent, the house doesn’t legally belong to the con artists.]
There are some variations on this theme…
-Con artists look for a vacant house—say, a vacation home or rental property—and do a little research to find out who owns it. Then, they steal the owner’s identity, go through the same process of transferring the deed, put the empty house on the market, and pocket the profits.
-Or, the fraudsters steal a house a family is still living in…find a buyer (someone, say, who is satisfied with a few online photos)…and sell the house without the family even knowing. In fact, the rightful owners continue right on paying the mortgage for a house they no longer own.

Both forms of house stealing (or title fraud) are typically intertwined with mortgage fraud.  And because of the process, mortgage fraud usually has multiple conspirators carrying out the scam.  An example of this is the 2013-2014 sentencing of at least five co-conspirators (including a title company manager and mortgage broker).  These criminals perpetrated a complex multi-million-dollar mortgage fraud scheme that occurred in Maryland.  One conspirator sold homes that did not belong to her.

According to the FBI report, house stealing is difficult to prevent.  However, vigilance on your part is highly recommended.  Red flags include receiving payment books and/or late notices for loans for which you did not apply.  Additionally, it is recommended to routinely monitor your home’s title in the county’s land records. Any unrecognized paperwork or fraudulent looking signatures may be an indication of title fraud and should be looked into.  Title fraud should be reported to the FBI.

Title fraud protection

You can visit Montgomery County’s land records office and get information on searching your home’s title from the very helpful staff.  You can also search land records online.  However, you should consult a title attorney for a detailed title search.

A problem with searching land records is that it is not always definitive.  Of course, accuracy depends on those who prepare and file the documents with the county.  Common issues that are found in title searches are misspelled names and aliases.  Deeds and other related documents (such as quit claim deeds and mortgage satisfaction letters) are not always filed timely, or sometimes not at all.

After the Equifax breach, millions of consumers’ identifications are available to criminals to perpetrate house stealing/title fraud.  Title monitoring services tout their ability to protect you from such scams.  Before you decide to enroll, be aware of the fees, the limitations, and how it compares or differs from your owner’s title insurance policy (including cost).

Your title insurance policy may already protect you from title fraud.  According to the Maryland Insurance Administration’s A Consumer Guide to Title Insurance (insurance.maryland.gov), “Title insurance protects real estate purchasers and/or lenders from losses that arise after a real estate settlement…A title insurance policy provides coverage for legal defense, as well as the coverage amount listed in the policy, which usually equals the purchase price of the real property.”  Basic coverage typically protects you for fraud that occurred prior to settlement.  However, enhanced coverage may provide protection for fraud that occurs after settlement.

You should consult with a title attorney about your title insurance coverage and how it protects you from title fraud.

By DanKrell
Copyright© 2017

Original published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2017/10/22/title-fraud-protection

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.

Understanding Title Insurance

title insurance
A Consumer Guide to Title Insurance from the Maryland Insurance Administration (insurance.maryland.gov)

The necessity of title insurance has been debated over the years by many home owners. However, foreclosure disputes, between lenders and former home owners, have brought focus on a valuable and often misunderstood protection. Besides the many stories that have been told about how an owner’s title insurance policy has saved or could have saved a home, many home buyers are unaware of how title insurance was conceived. Many have difficulty understanding title insurance.

According to the American Land Title Association (ALTA.org), title insurance came about as a result of a landmark court case in Pennsylvania in 1868, which found that home seller was not be responsible for a erroneous title opinion. Subsequently, the first title insurance company was formed in 1876 in Philadelphia. The company promoted itself by claiming that they would insure “the purchasers of real estate and mortgages against losses from defective title, liens and encumbrances”…”Through these facilities, transfer of real estate and real estate securities can be made more speedily and with greater security than heretofore.”

Like today, title examinations were conducted to ensure that the title was marketable (or defect free). However, prior to the offering of title insurance, property owners were often held responsible for liens and encumbrances left on the title by the previous owner, or when mistakes occurred. Title disputes were often settled in court.

Initially, title insurance was often a local process. However, the title insurance industry surged along with an expanded housing market after World War II ended. Additionally, the use of lender’s title insurance grew along with the secondary mortgage market; because as the number of nationwide mortgage holders increased, lenders found that title insurance was necessary to protect their interests.

Contrasting to the recordation system has been used in most of the United States (in some cases before the formation of the country); many other countries use a land registration. Land registration typically allows a government to determine ownership when property ownership is challenged; property owners usually have no recourse.

Title insurance is a result of our recordation system that continues to this day, where property ownership can usually be determined by conveyance. Although the recordation system relies on transfer instruments that indicate a grantor, grantee, and property description; the system is not perfect. Besides recordation mistakes and claims from unrecorded conveyances; fraud can also occur by recording falsified transfer documents with a complicit or unsuspecting clerk.

There are two types of title insurance that are offered: lender’s and owner’s. A lender’s policy is usually required by a mortgage lender and protects the interests of the lender by validating the lender’s validity and enforceability of the mortgage. The lender’s policy is typically issued for the mortgage amount and coverage decreases as the principal is paid down.

An owner’s title insurance policy protects the owner’s interest in the property. The policy is typically issued for the purchase price and is usually valid through ownership to cover claims against the title. Policy coverage varies- so check with your title agent for pricing and coverage levels.

When purchasing a title insurance policy, consult with your title attorney about the policy coverage and limitations. Additionally, A Consumer Guide to Title Insurance is available from the agency that regulates title insurance producers – the Maryland Insurance Administration (https://insurance.maryland.gov/Consumer/Documents/publications/titleinsurancebrochure.pdf).

by Dan Krell
© 2011

Original published at https://dankrell.com/blog/2011/08/18/title-insurance-a-misunderstood-safeguard/

This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.