The con artists start by picking out a house to steal, they assume your identity by 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.
After forging your signature and using the fake IDs, they transfer title at the County Recorder’s Office, now your house is theirs.
There are some variations on this theme…
Con artists look for a vacant house, 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 title, 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, 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.
It can get even more complicated than this. A real estate business owner in southeast Los Angeles led a scam that defrauded more than 100 homeowners and lenders out of some $12 million. By promising to help struggling homeowners pay their mortgages by refinancing their loans. Instead, she and her partners in crime used stolen identities or “straw buyers” (people who are paid for the illegal use of their personal information) to purchase these homes. They then pocketed the money they borrowed but never made any mortgage payments. In the process, the true owners lost the title to their homes and the banks were out the money they had loaned to fake buyers.
How Can You Protect Yourself?
So how can you prevent your house from getting stolen? Not easily. The best you can do at this point is to stay vigilant. A few suggestions:
- If you receive a payment book or information from a mortgage company that’s not yours, whether your name is on the envelope or not, don’t just throw it away. Open it, figure out what it says, and follow up with the company that sent it.
- From time to time, it’s also a good idea to check all information pertaining to your house through title or your county recorder’s office. Be sure that you are still listed on title. If you see any paperwork you don’t recognize or any signatures that are not yours, look into it.
Thankfully, house-stealing is not too common at this point. If you think you’ve been victimized please contact your local police.