Recently the term “title theft” has been brought to life by advertisers frequently sending consumers warnings about it. Can a thief really steal your house through forgery?
What is title theft?
A property title is the evidence that a person has the rights to the ownership and possession of property. When someone “has title” to a property, it means that a notarized deed granting them title from the previous owner has been placed on record with a government office. In Stark County that is with our county recorder, Rick Campbell’s office. Title theft or deed fraud occurs when someone obtains the title of a property, usually by stealing the owner’s identity and recording a forged deed to change ownership of the property’s title. The fraudster can then sell or borrow against that property.
Title theft is rare
My research shows that title theft is still a fairly rare occurrence. The process of stealing someone’s identity, creating a notarized deed forgery, and getting it past the county employees is not a simple one. The most likely targets criminals look for include the elderly and people who own second homes, vacation homes or investment properties. These scammers are looking for situations where the owners may miss or dismiss notices. They hope they can make money off these properties before the owner notices.
What about title insurance?
When you purchased your home, the title company performed what is called a “title search.” A title search includes searching real estate records at the county where the property is located to determine who is the legal owner, reveal any liens, mortgages, judgements or unpaid taxes that will have to be cleared before the property can be sold. When you purchase a new home in Ohio, you typically purchase title insurance from the title company to protect yourself from financial loss in the event that a problem may arise regarding the rights to ownership of your property. There may be hidden defects that even the most careful title search may not reveal. Title Insurance may not cover a title theft that occurs while you own the property, however, there may be policies available that do cover this. Make sure to check with a local title company for more information.
How to protect yourself against title theft
The most important thing you can do to protect yourself from title theft is to be aware. Check your free credit report annually at freecreditreport.com and pay attention to incoming bills. At no charge and as frequently as you’d like, you can also search the county recorder’s website for any deeds you’ve granted and you can search county auditor’s website to see the details of properties you own, including the current titleholder. If you notice something unusual, you will want to report it to the local, county, state, or even federal law enforcement agencies right away.
Title theft protection companies that you may have heard advertised will notify you instantly if they detect someone tampering with your title or mortgage. This could help to keep the damage to a minimum, but does require a monthly fee. However, the company may not cover the cost of any potential legal fees necessary to fix problems with your title.
If you have concerns over a property you own, you can contact your favorite local realtor for guidance. They have the resources to check and make sure the correct names are on your property’s title.
The Stark County Association of Realtors welcomes you to visit our website at www.starkrealtors.com for a complete listing of realtors and affiliate members who are sure to meet your professional real estate needs.
If you have any questions or comments on this article, please contact me by email at [email protected]