In the current financial environment, with prices for basic goods and services skyrocketing, it’s no surprise that con artists and thieves are becoming bolder. According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, there’s been a steady rise in real estate-related crimes such as title theft, fake rental listings, and wire fraud.
Many people have suffered financial losses due to these actions, and it’s incredibly difficult for law enforcement to recover the stolen funds.
But you can avoid being victimized by unscrupulous criminals by taking steps to protect yourself and your property. Read on to learn more about what to watch for and how to keep your assets safe.
The Tell-tale Signs
There are definitely several red flags that will help you spot a potential real estate scam. They use various tactics like phishing to steal identifying information and create phony documentation that will separate you from your money or home.
The threat actor could attempt to:
- Refinance your home without your knowledge and cash out the equity
- Open a home equity line of credit (HELOC)
- Forge your signature on the title to sell the property and keep the profits
- Offer fraudulent refinancing opportunities
- Send spoof emails with incorrect wire instructions
Title theft can be especially dangerous because you could actually lose your home or a considerable amount of money. Scammers particularly like to target the elderly or other vulnerable populations, the property of a recently deceased person that may still be in probate, and vacation or second homes.
These kinds of crimes are a form of identity theft. While you can sign up for online monitoring services that give you some protection, everyone should know the warning signs of someone trying to use your personal information to their advantage. Here’s what to look out for:
- Unexplained charges or withdrawals from your bank account
- Unfamiliar medical bills
- New credit cards you didn’t apply for
- Errors on your credit report
- Collection notices for unknown debt
- Change of mailing address notification
- Missing mail or communications from your financial institutions
- Problems with your tax return or Social Security
- Unusually high utility bills at a vacant or second residence
These could be the opening acts of a cybercriminal who also has their eye on stealing the title to your home.
Going on the Defensive
Now that you know what depths to which thieves are willing to sink these days, it’s critical to stay vigilant and take some simple steps to ensure you won’t be a victim of any malicious activity.
The first and most important thing you can do to protect yourself from title theft is to make sure you have title insurance and the right amount of coverage. Comprehensive title insurance protects homeowners from exactly these types of problems for an incredibly affordable one-time premium.
Reach out to your title company or real estate attorney. They’ll be able to offer invaluable guidance and perform a regular title search to check for any signs of fraudulent activity.
Next, take a thorough look at all of your bills, such as utilities, services, credit cards, and loan payments, and contact the company if any are missing or you notice anything suspicious. If you’re still receiving any paper correspondence, change it to electronic only.
Monitoring your credit reports can also help you spot potential identity and title theft. A decrease in your credit score can signify that someone is applying for loans in your name.
If you own a second home, rental, or vacation property, be sure to keep detailed records of the monthly bills associated with that address so you can take action immediately if you see any discrepancies.
As title theft and other real estate scams are almost always cybercrimes, now is the perfect time to tighten up your online security. Change all of your passwords to something strong and unique to each site you use. That’s a lot to remember and you should never keep your passwords written down, so it’s smart to utilize a secure password manager on your computer and smartphone.
It never hurts to upgrade your antivirus software and take advantage of every security feature. If you routinely make use of free wi-fi networks, you should be using a VPN (a virtual private network) on your computer and phone. Those open networks are fertile ground for hackers to steal your personal data. A VPN encrypts your online traffic and keeps your info safe.
Be aware of calls or emails that seem phishy or ask for sensitive information. Don’t click links, open attachments, or call phone numbers within a suspicious email. If you need to wire money for a real estate transaction, never follow instructions regarding the transfer of money that have been sent via email. Always speak directly with a trusted agent.
Protection You Can Depend On
Real estate scams, forgery, and title theft are on the rise, so it’s crucial to do your due diligence and take action to ensure your property is safe from cyber thieves.
With the help of your title company and a trusted real estate team, you can get peace of mind by knowing that your assets are protected against threat actors and online con artists. Our experienced and knowledgeable team is dedicated to safeguarding clients from crimes like these.
If you have any questions about title services, insurance, attorneys, or REALTORS, we’re happy to answer them all — contact us today.