Identity theft is a scary occurrence for any victim. Theft of your social security number or other personally identifying information is traumatizing. It is very disconcerting when identity theft victims discover that thieves have purchased electronics, clothing, or even cars using the stolen identity, but what if someone were to purchase an entire home in your name?
While not as common as some social security number related scams, it can happen, and can be more devastating than other types of identity theft because it is often more difficult to resolve. There are a few different ways mortgage identity theft occurs. The first and most obvious is the identity thief gains access to enough of your personal information to successfully impersonate you and uses this information to purchase a home in your name. All of a sudden a mortgage company or bank mortgage department that you had no idea about shows up on your credit report.
Another possibility which is often more devastating involves the home you already live in. The identity thief uses your personal information to transfer the deed of your home to either themselves, or a third party, without your knowledge. You continue to live in your home and pay your mortgage, having no idea you no longer technically “own” the home you’re paying for. Additionally, some thieves will represent themselves as legitimate title holders, offering color of title (meaning a forged deed) to a prospective home buyer in order to take the buyer’s money, while mortgaging or selling the real title to another party. Sometimes the thief will pose as a broker and offer to consolidate payments to help struggling home owners. Homeowners willingly give over their hard earned cash, however that money never makes it to the bank and the owners are left in a worse financial situation than when they started.
In order to avoid becoming a victim of mortgage identity theft, there are some steps a consumer can take to help minimize their risk. The ITRC always recommends that consumers regularly check their credit reports to ensure there are no accounts being reported that they are unfamiliar with. This is certainly true of credit cards, but mortgages also appear on your credit report. Check to ensure there are no mortgages attached to your financial history that don’t belong to you. You are entitled to one free report from each of the credit reporting agencies and can access them online at www.annualcreditreport.com
A public records search is another available tool and can let you know if your deed has been transferred to another party without your knowledge. Many identity protection plans include public records searches in their basic service, and some alert you to the use of your identity on a deed you are unaware of. There are also services that will allow you to do one time searches for a fee. Lastly, when you are purchasing a home it’s always a good idea to verify the property with the county recorder’s office to ensure the deed you’re paying for is a legitimate title and not a forgery. These simple steps can go a long way to preventing the very serious issue of mortgage identity theft.
“Mortgage Identity Theft” was written by Matt Davis. Matt is Director of Business Alliances at the Identity Theft Resource Center. We welcome you to post/reprint the above article, as written, giving credit to the author and linking back to the original posting.