How Equifax hackers could steal your home
By Jeff Lazerson
After you get done freezing your credit report and screaming out the window that you are mad as hell and you aren’t going to take it anymore you need to be thinking about protecting yourself against fraudulent property title transfers.
Here’s why: The Equifax breach earlier this month exposed the sensitive personal information of as many as 143 million Americans to hackers. Not only is your social security number, driver’s license number and your date of birth probably floating around, the world (crooks included) also has access to your signature if you’ve ever signed a grant deed (property deed) that was publicly recorded.
“Townships and counties nationwide total 3,635 recording jurisdictions,” said Karl Klessig, chairman of Brea-based Synrgo, a nationwide document recording service. “If you’ve recorded a land title through a mortgage or ownership, your signature is in the public file.”
If someone goes into a county recorder’s office with a properly filled out and notarized deed, the recorder’s office is obligated to record the document. Bam! Just like that, you can potentially get fleeced.
“Fraud happens fast,” said Glenn Awerkamp, vice president at Lawyers Title. “Money out within a month. It’s safer than robbing a bank.”
We are lucky in Orange County because the local officials here notify property owners by mail when documents are recorded against their parcels.
The Orange County District Attorney’s Office has received 509 crime reports about fraudulent conveyances in the last five years, and convicted 57 individuals for this crime in that period, the D.A.’s office reported. That doesn’t include complaints to local police.
What if you discover you no longer own your home because someone fraudulently conveyed title?
You have to file a quiet title action, or a court action to establish that you’re the legal owner of the property, Awerkamp said.
“State law has no statute of limitations when it comes to quiet title,” said Laguna Niguel attorney W. Michael Hensley. “Four years would be the usual deadline for courts to cancel fraudulent property transfers and loan takeouts.”
The FBI encourages anyone who believes they are a victim of deed fraud to report it to their local FBI field office or online at tips.fbi.gov. And, if your identity has been assumed, ask the credit bureau to print a statement to that effect in your credit report.
Here are some tips for homeowners from the D.A.’s office:
I suggest you check your property chain of title once a year or so for all properties you own in the U.S. Call the local municipal or county agency that keeps the records or a local Realtor or local title insurance company.
If you have questions or comments, please contact Jeff Lazerson by clicking here.
Jeff Lazerson - Mortgage Columnist since 2011