I have been completing real estate closings for over 10 years now. In the past few years, especially during refinances when I am going to an individual’s home, I get the question “how easy it is for someone to steal my home?”
While I am not certain how “easy” it is to steal the title to an individual’s home, as with any theft, the possibility is out there. There is a certain amount of complexity to the process, including the use of forgery, fraudulent identification, and an unethical notary (or one who has had their information compromised).
To help protect yourself and your property, there are some common and simple steps you can take to be proactive.
- Sign up with your local Register of Deeds to get notifications when a document is registered with your name. My residence is in Ingham County, Michigan, and they use a website called Property Fraud Alert. This website provides listings for multiple states, not just Michigan. Take a moment and see if your state and county is part of the program. If it is not, call your local Register of Deeds office and see if they have a program similar.
- Monitor your credit reports, making certain new accounts are not opened in your name or that there are not unauthorized charges on current accounts.
- Keep track of your mortgage documents. Pay attention to the monthly mortgage statement, tax bills, assessments, and know where the Deed is to your home. (Vault Keepers can assist with maintaining your original Deed, Title Insurance, etc. for a low annual fee)
- Make certain that you update your passwords, especially banking passwords, on a regular basis. Use passwords that are not common, easily guessed, or used in other multiple locations. (Vault Keepers has a fillable form on the website to assist with keeping track of passwords and on-line accounts)
- Monitor your incoming mail for changes. Red flags would include receiving mail with another person’s name on it, bills your normally receive are not coming any longer, etc.
- Installing a security system on a second residence where you are not at frequently.
To learn more about how to protect yourself and your property, two good articles are Home Title Theft: How to Protect Yourself and Home Title Theft: How Homeowners Can Protect Themselves.