Deed fraud, which is also referred to as “property title theft” occurs when a criminal files a counterfeit deed to property owned by someone else and then either lives in the property or even sells the property to an unwary buyer. Deed fraud most commonly occurs after a homeowner dies. Enterprising criminals monitor the obituaries looking for homes owned by people recently deceased and then forge a deed to the property and record it in the local Registry of Deeds.
Indications that a home you may own has been subject to deed fraud often comes when you receive notices for unpaid real estate tax, water or mortgage bills. Ironically, another indication of deed fraud is when you own a home and don’t receive your real estate tax bill because the scammer has changed the address to which the real estate tax bill is sent to cover his or her tracks. Receiving a foreclosure notice when you don’t even have a mortgage is another indication that you have become a victim of deed fraud after the criminal has mortgaged your home by forging your signature.
Resolving deed fraud can be a timely process, but it is one that you will eventually be able to do successfully.
In Arizona, the family of Jerry Gotlieb who died in 2018 learned a year after his death that his home had been sold through deed fraud. Eventually the home was transferred back to the family and the scammer was arrested.
In order to protect yourself from deed fraud you should regularly monitor your credit reports at each of the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion and be on the lookout for bills related to your property. Monitoring your credit report is something we all should do regularly anyway. In response to the Coronavirus pandemic, through December 31, 2022 Experian, TransUnion and Equifax will offer all U.S. consumers free weekly credit reports through AnnualCreditReport.com.
It also is helpful to regularly check with your local Registry of Deeds to confirm that no one has filed a forged deed to your property. Most people can access their local Registry of Deeds online for free.
Finally, when you purchase your home, you are offered the option of buying an owner’s title insurance policy which will cover the cost of remedying deed fraud. An owner’s title insurance policy is a good choice for any homeowner for a variety of reasons. Lately I have seen and heard advertisements for special insurance that only covers deed fraud although generally all these policies offer is monitoring the Registry of Deeds for filings that relate to your home, which is something that you can do on your own quite simply for free.
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