Can Someone Steal Your House without You Knowing?

There is a well-known idiom, “good fences make good neighbors.” And while it’s not meant to be used in real estate transactions, this idiom can find its practical application in deed fraud cases. 

In this article, we will cover what deed fraud is and how can someone steal your house deed without you even knowing about it.

We will also discuss who is at risk of title fraud and how thieves are depriving the homeowners of their properties.

Can Someone Steal Your House without You Knowing

How Can Someone Steal Your House Deed

Real estate fraud occurs when a thief alters property documents to transfer the ownership of your home. Identity theft is what gives thieves access to the title to your home or other property.

Identity theft is the first step in real estate title and mortgage fraud. Thieves can steal your identity in many ways, including forgery and theft. Your driver’s license, Social Security Number (SSN), and birth certificate can all be used as identification.

Fraudsters use your fake ID to notarize a deed transfer, along with your forged signature. Then, for a small fee of $37, they file the forged deed with the Recorder of Deeds and your house is no longer yours.

You’re probably wondering how thieves can get away with forged documents. How can someone steal your house if the deed is fake? Aren’t the authorities meant to check the validity of these documents?

From the perspective of the Recorder of Deeds, the answer is no. They are not an investigating agency, but rather an establisher of public record. When it comes to them, a notarized signature is accepted as legitimate.

So that leaves the responsibility with the notaries. In some cases, their signatures and stamps are also forged. In other cases, they are accomplices. And sometimes they are negligent, like in the case of Eloy De La O.

Doña Ana County Employee Lost Her Job After It Was Discovered She Processed a Fraudulent Deed

A case from New Mexico tells the story of a homeowner that lost his property due to a fraudulent deed. In this case, a Doña Ana County employee transferred the forged deed and lost her job as a result.

But did the original homeowner reclaim his property?

Eloy De La O, the homeowner, was not present when they notarized the deed. He stated he did not agree to give away his property. Then, he made several calls to the office asking them to remove his signature from the document.

Rachel Blacklock, identified as De La O’s mother, asked the clerk to notarize his signature. The clerk thought it was fine to notarize the documents as she knew De La O personally.

So, can someone steal your house without you being aware? The answer is yes. Especially when they’re a relative that has access to your personal information.

The employee who handled the case was later fired. But it is doubtful whether De La O will restore his ownership. The County Clerk Office says they can’t reverse the transfer. They need a court order to do so.

So where does that leave De La O?

In a more ideal scenario, the current owner will voluntarily sign over the property. But, if this is not the case, then he needs to hire an attorney to represent his case in court.

Who is at Risk of Home Title Theft?

A key part of the scheme is to find a house that is empty or temporarily unoccupied.

Vacation and rental homes are usually good places to target. The homeowners are often not around, so bills and notices pile up. Especially if the owners haven’t been back home for a while.

Mark Sedmak purchased an apartment building as a real estate investment. The home had been vacant for 16 months when we decided to take a trip and check the property.

To his surprise, Sedmak found himself locked out. Someone sold the property without his knowledge.

If you own a second home, be sure to check your paperwork for any strange changes or irregularities. It’s a good idea to physically check out the place every now and then too.

About to come into an inheritance? You should keep a close eye on your new home. Most cases of property theft involve owners that have died and heirs that don’t live on the property. 

Dr. Bernard Gross was locked out of his childhood home.

He informed the authorities and the discoveries were shocking. His mother recently transferred the home title to a relative he never heard about. But what was more surprising was that his mother had been dead for 25 years. She couldn’t have signed those papers.

When a home is vacant, it’s an open invitation to thieves and scammers. And then, there are the ones who prey on the elderly.

Senior homeowners are more susceptible to deed fraud. Besides the fact that they may be less tech-savvy, they also may have more equity in their homes.

Thieves often target properties with no mortgage, good credit ratings, and owners they can trick into applying for a mortgage. This allows them to commit mortgage and title fraud.

It’s easier for criminals to commit mortgage fraud when they know their victims well. Seniors, especially those who live with caregivers, make easy targets for identity theft.

A 71-Year-Old Woman’s Home Had Been Improperly Sold in 2019

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A 71-year-old woman filed a complaint with the police after discovering an unauthorized sale of her property in 2019. 

The defendant allegedly stole 14 houses by filing fraudulent deeds.

Deed fraudsters are becoming more prevalent, according to assistant district attorney Dawn Holtz. They identify real homes where the property owners have died or moved away. They then create fake deeds.

Deeds get passed around, sold to another unsuspecting buyer. The original homeowners suffer losses in the end.

Many victims of deed theft do not have the financial resources to fight a legal battle. It can be expensive to prove your case in court. A case like this often requires the services of one or more forensic document examiners.

What Happens if Someone Steals the Deed to Your House?

If you are the victim of identity theft, you may suffer financial losses, as well as ruined credit history.

If you become a victim of title or mortgage fraud, you will have to pay legal fees to defend your title. The worst part is that you may not even win.

A stolen property title is a serious matter. If you ever lose your title, it’s possible that the thief can legally sell or refinance your property. This is what happens if someone steals the deed to your house. But there are even worse situations.

A very sad case comes from Atlanta, where Linda Willis came home to a bulldozer tearing down her home. She has been paying her mortgage for 30 years and intended to own the home for the rest of her life.

She was in shock when the bulldozer operator told her who hired him. The company he worked for bought the property from a woman named Cencera Willis.

Linda Willis, who never sold her house, did not know who Cencera Willis was. But the devastating fact remains – her home was getting torn down.

Title thieves targeted this particular property because of its ideal location.

A Former School Teacher Lost Her Million-Dollar Property to a Deed Fraudster

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Craig Hecht was convicted of defrauding an elderly former school teacher out of her million-dollar home.

The victim and her family lived in the home for more than three decades. They moved away after a fire damaged the building in 2010.

In 2015, a neighbor informed her that someone was working on the house. He introduced himself as the new property owner.

The authorities managed to bring the criminal to justice. And although this is a happy case, it was only four years later that the forged deed was nullified.

The court ordered Hecht to pay $850,000 in restitution to the title insurance company. The company covered the losses incurred by the home buyer, not the original homeowner.

 “I remain committed to protecting Brooklyn homeowners and I hope today’s sentence sends a clear message to those trying to take advantage of seniors or those considering selling their homes — you will be prosecuted and held fully accountable for your crimes,” said Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez

Should You Be Concerned About Home Title Theft?

Real estate title fraud is a clear and present danger in the United States. It’s estimated that the United States loses at least $56 billion to identity fraud each year. Some of that money goes towards deed fraud too.

Large counties like Dallas tend to see more property crime. This is because they process so many records every day. County Clerk John Warren says the county doesn’t keep statistics, but deed theft happens often enough.

When you think of someone stealing your home, you picture some shady guy breaking in with a crowbar. The truth is that while deed theft isn’t as common as burglary, it is real and harmful.

Home title theft is not a myth. But you’re less likely to become a victim if you follow a few common-sense precautions.

Our article details the steps to take to prevent deed fraud. The content may teach you how to prevent home title theft.

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Final Thoughts

When it comes to protecting your home, you need to be educated. Make sure you know what you should and shouldn’t do, so you can avoid making any costly mistakes.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help, too, if you need it. The more information you have about protecting your home title, the better off you’ll be.

With home title monitoring, know that you are fully aware of all transactions and third-party holds on your property. This can help you avoid any unpleasant scenarios brought about by home title theft.

Read our reviews of title monitoring services and take the first step towards a safer home today.

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