Did You Know Your Home Can Be a Victim of Identity Theft?
When someone steals your identity, they use your personal or financial information without authorization. If you don't catch on right away, an identity thief may cost you thousands of dollars or cause long-term damage to your credit history.
What you may not know is that it's also possible for someone to steal your home's identity, a crime known as home title theft. Learn more about this crime and how it affects homeowners.
Home title theft is when someone steals your identity and uses it to transfer your home into their name. This allows them to sell the home, refinance the mortgage or take other actions that deprive you of your property.
When someone commits home title fraud, you may not notice right away, leaving you vulnerable to other scams. That's why it's so important to check your credit reports regularly. By law, you can get your reports from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion for free once per year.
Once you have your credit reports, scan them for unknown accounts or unusual entries. If someone stole your identity to commit home title theft, they may have applied for a second mortgage in your name or used your personal information to open a new credit card. To report identity theft, visit IdentityTheft.gov to submit a complaint. You'll receive a personalized action plan to help you take control of your personal and financial information.
If you're a victim of home title theft, you may also notice at least one of the following signs:
- Your identity theft protection service sends you urgent alerts.
- You stop receiving mail, which is a sign that someone has changed your mailing address.
- You receive correspondence regarding a mortgage application you don't know anything about.
- Someone claims to be renting your home.
- You start receiving foreclosure letters.
- You receive a notice from the county clerk informing you of a change in ownership.
Although home title theft is real, it's relatively uncommon. Banks and other financial institutions have strict safeguards in place to protect customers from this type of fraud. You're more likely to be the victim of traditional identity theft.
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“Home title theft insurance” is a bit of a misnomer, as home title lock isn't an insurance policy. It's a service that monitors the deed to your home and lets you know if there's been any change in ownership. Although it's a legitimate service, you don't really need it, as you can check your own title for free. Additionally, home title theft insurance doesn't lock the title to your home. Since it doesn't alert you until after a change in ownership occurs, there's no need to pay for the service.
In addition to checking your credit reports regularly, you should take the following steps to prevent home title theft:
Shred Personal and Financial Documents
Desperate thieves may pick through garbage to find account statements and other documents with information that can help them steal your identity. Shredding documents makes it more difficult for other people to access your personal data.
Use Caution When Entering Sensitive Information Online
Scammers use spoofing and phishing to trick people into revealing their personal information, making it much easier for them to commit title theft. For example, a scammer may send an email that looks like it came from your bank. If you hand over your personal information, the scammer will be able to access your accounts.
Be Careful While Using Public Wi-Fi
It's possible for scammers to intercept your personal data, giving them the information they need to commit home title theft.
Get a Locking Mailbox
This prevents thieves from stealing your mail and using what they find to transfer ownership of your home.
Monitor Vacant Properties
If you own a vacation home or a rental property, visit regularly to check for signs that someone is living there without your permission. Overflowing trash cans, food crumbs and open windows are all potential signs that someone has taken ownership of your home.
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