Home title fraud and wiring scams have become more prominent nationwide over the past few years.
I had not heard of or experienced any problems in my years of real estate on Sanibel Island until recently. The threat is always a possibility. So, I thought I’d share some tips for your knowledge and protection.
What Is Home Title Fraud?
I should start by explaining that home title fraud is an involuntary transfer of property title without the owner’s consent. Most of the time, you don’t even know it happened. The perpetrators submit a deed to the county appraiser’s office with your foraged signature as the seller, which transfers the property into their name as the new owners.
The clerk of courts in the appraiser’s office checks that the paperwork requirements are met, but it is not their job to contact both parties to confirm the validity of the agreement. That’s where it gets dangerous. Now, the legal records show the fraudulent party as the true owner of the property, and they can attempt to sell the property or take out a mortgage using the property as collateral.
Title Fraud Red Flags
Warning signs include:
- Notice of unpaid utility bills or tax bills
- Utility or tax bills are no longer coming to you
- Bills and/or other mail have another person’s name or have no name
- An unexplained drop in your credit score
Who Is At Risk
While title fraud could happen to anyone, the following groups are particularly vulnerable:
- Seniors, or those not good with technology
- Anyone suffering identity theft
- Second-home and vacation home owners
- Foreign real estate investors
- Inheritors of deceased family member’s estate
What About Wiring Scams
Wiring scams are another common threat to real estate transactions. That’s why it’s important to work with a trusted title company or attorney’s office to handle your real estate closing. Once a wire has left your account, there is no chance to return the money, regardless of if it went to a fraudulent account.
Never trust wiring instructions sent via email. Always call the title office to confirm the instructions you receive.
Call or visit your banking institution in person to request the wire transfer. If submitting the request online, make sure it is sent via a secure messaging system provided by your bank.
The Bottom Line
The intention of this blog isn’t to “scare” you away from purchasing real estate. There are scam threats in almost every industry and every country nowadays.
But, you should understand the seriousness of the threat of home title fraud and wiring scams. We take precautions to educate, remind and protect our clients throughout the home purchase process. It’s also important to check the county property appraiser’s website every so often to make sure the records are still in your name and not showing suspicious activity.
If you have questions about title insurance, title fraud, and other title-related concerns, we’re happy to put you in contact with one of our trusted title companies here in Southwest Florida. Just email us at email@example.com, and we’ll get you in contact with a professional.