HOUSE STEALING: The Latest
Scam on the Block
March 27, 2008
What do you get when you combine two popular rackets these days
- identity theft and mortgage fraud? A totally new kind of crime:
According to the FBI, here's
how it generally works:
- The con artists start by picking
out a house to steal-say, YOURS.
- Next, they assume your identity-getting
a hold of your name and personal information (easy enough to
do off the Internet) and using that to create fake IDs, social
security cards, etc.
- Then, they go to an office
supply store and purchase forms that transfer property.
- After forging your signature
and using the fake IDs, they file these deeds with the proper
authorities, and lo and behold, your house is now THEIRS.
There are some variations on
- Con artists look for a vacant
house-say, a vacation home or rental property-and do a little
research to find out who owns it. Then, they steal the owner's
identity, go through the same process of transferring the deed,
put the empty house on the market, and pocket the profits.
- Or, the fraudsters steal
a house a family is still living infind a buyer (someone, say,
who is satisfied with a few online photos)and sell the house
without the family even knowing. In fact, the rightful owners
continue right on paying the mortgage for a house they no longer
It can get even more complicated
than this, as the FBI learned in a recent case out of Los Angeles
that the FBI investigated with the IRS. Last year, a real estate
business owner in southeast Los Angeles pled guilty to leading
a scam that defrauded more than 100 homeowners and lenders out
of some $12 million. She promised to help struggling homeowners
pay their mortgages by refinancing their loans. Instead, she
and her partners in crime used stolen identities or "straw
buyers" (people who are paid for the illegal use of their
personal information) to purchase these homes. They then pocketed
the money they borrowed but never made any mortgage payments.
In the process, the true owners lost the title to their homes
and the banks were out the money they had loaned to fake buyers.
So how can prevent your house
from getting stolen? Not easily, the FBI is sorry to say. The
best you can do at this point is to stay vigilant. A few suggestions
from the FBI:
- If you receive a payment
book or information from a mortgage company that's not yours,
whether your name is on the envelope or not, don't just throw
it away. Open it, figure out what it says, and follow up with
the company that sent it.
- From time to time, it's also
a good idea to check all information pertaining to your house
through your county's deeds office. If you see any paperwork
you don't recognize or any signature that is not yours, look
According to the FBI, house-stealing
is not too common at this point, but the FBI is keeping an eye
out for any major cases or developing trends.Contact the FBI
or your local police if you think you've been victimized.
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