Smart About Money: Could you be at risk for home title fraud? Yes!

Nick Maffeo

Commercials pushing products with scare tactics always make me skeptical. So a recent radio commercial for a monthly-fee service offering to protect homeowners from home title fraud got my attention.

While other kinds of scams and frauds are all too common, no one seemed to be talking about home title fraud. So I decided to do a little digging to see if I could find out how much of a problem home title fraud actually is.

According to deeds.com, “It is counter-intuitive to think that a person can simply record a deed and steal your property, but similar scams are occurring with increasing regularity nationwide. These forged records often involve quitclaim deeds, which offer no warranties of title.”

Okay – so that means criminals have found another way to cause hassles for both innocent victim homeowners and “bona fide purchasers of real estate that turns out to be stolen,” as deeds.com points out.

According to Norfolk County Register of Deeds William P. O’Donnell, “Many jurisdictions across the country have reported unscrupulous individuals recording fraudulent land documents making it appear they own another person’s home or property.”

“Fortunately, we have not seen this type of crime take place in Norfolk County,” O’Donnell said. But it is a growing crime.

Right now, it looks like home title thieves search for homes and properties no one seems to be paying close attention to. Second homes, abandoned properties, empty lots, occupied-but-run-down homes, deceased individuals’ homes and business holdings are prime targets. But criminals are always evolving. So it turns out that home title fraud is something local homeowners should add to their list of financial hazards to keep an eye on.

Would a monthly-fee home title protection service benefit you? That’s a case of “It depends,” especially if you own multiple properties or you’re dealing with complicated family circumstances that make it difficult to monitor important financial matters. There’s no one-size-fits-all here.

If you feel confident in your ability to keep an eye on things, the Norfolk County Registry of Deeds has gone live with its innovative free online Consumer Notification Service designed to “proactively help consumers protect their home.” It’s at norfolkdeeds.org under “Services.”

The sign-up is quick and – according to Register O’Donnell – you will be alerted via email usually within 24 hours about “changes in deeds, mortgages, mortgage discharges, non-mortgage liens, Homesteads or other land documents that might be recorded against the property.”

(If you’re buying a property especially with a quick turnover or for cash, you will definitely want to consult with your banker or a local real estate attorney to verify the title is clear and good.)

In many of these situations, you are your best first line of protection. There’s no need to become obsessive or overly afraid. At a minimum, closely review your bank & credit card statements every month. Check your credit report at least once a year. Watch for red flags like unexpected notices of unpaid municipal fees. Sign up for Norfolk County Registry’s Consumer Notification Service for properties in Norfolk County and be prepared to act if you get a heads-up email from them. Check with other counties where you own property to see what (possibly free) deed-checking options they may have.

If you have questions or feel overwhelmed, your banker, CPA or attorney should be able to work with you to come up with a plan that will help protect your home/s.

Nick Maffeo is the President & CEO of Canton Co-operative Bank in Canton. Have a question? Email to info@cantoncoopbank.com.

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