WAYNE COUNTY, OH, Mar. 20, 2023 — Can a home be stolen right out from under its owner? The answer is yes.
Should homeowners be concerned? Wayne County Recorder Jane Carmichael says everyone, including homeowners, should stay vigilant and learn about the latest fraud schemes to help protect their assets. If something does not sound, look or feel right — investigate it.
"The Recorder’s office has had many inquiries about title fraud or if someone could obtain the title of your property and change ownership," Carmichael said. "There are so many scams out there, so my answer would be, yes, it could. I believe that family members taking away property from a relative would be more common."
In 2008, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) reported that a real estate business owner in Los Angeles pled guilty to leading a scam that defrauded more than 100 homeowners and lenders out of approximately $12 million. Since then, the number of real estate scams has risen.
According to the FBI, there are a few variations to the swindle. However, they boil down to a fraudster ultimately stealing the homeowner’s identity, transferring the property’s deed using fake ID cards, forging signatures, and filing paperwork with the proper authorities.
A homeowner may go on paying the mortgage and living in the house only to find out later that they no longer own the home. A second type of scam involves homeowners that are struggling to pay their mortgages, according to the FBI. A crook promises to refinance the mortgage, but instead, they buy the house using a false identity. The homeowner loses the house, and the bank loses the money they loaned to the fake buyers.
The good news is that, according to the FBI, since the paperwork is fraudulent, the house does not legally belong to the swindler.
The Recorder’s Office archives information that pertains to land, which includes deeds and mortgages. Therefore, Carmichael is keeping an eye on how real estate scams evolve.
“The records in the Wayne County Recorder’s Office are public, but they are not online right now,” she said. “But, they will be in the future.”
Carmichael offers some tips and advice to help avoid being the victim of title theft.
- People most preyed upon include the elderly and those with more than one piece of property.
- Do not give out any personal information; do not sign anything you do not understand; do not sign anything from a stranger; question any mail regarding your property that you are unsure about.
- Make sure you receive bills at your address, especially tax bills.
- Watch for identity theft and check credit reports.
- Many people would have to be in on the scam: banks, notaries, appraisers, title companies, etc. Signatures would also have to be forged.
- Protect email accounts. Take measures to avoid email hacking.
- Monitoring companies that advertise protection cannot prevent title theft. They require a monthly fee and only find out after the fraud occurs. They may offer reimbursement.
- Check indexes online; this will show what is happening with a property. Go to ohiorecorders.com, click on Wayne County, Ohio, and click on the link to the indexes. Sign in as a guest, accept, search, and type last name, then first name. This will return what has been recorded since May 1988.
- Search online for title fraud to find out more information.
Carmichael urges anyone with questions regarding title fraud to contact her office at 330.287.5464 or email email@example.com.
Dan Starcher is the Public Communications Coordinator for the Wayne County government.