They stole my house!
By: Merideth Nagel, Esq.
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They stole my house!
Late-night television is rife with advertisements for insurance to protect yourself from “deed fraud,” “title theft,” “land theft,” or “house stealing.” These ads fill you with dread that at any moment bad guys can STEAL YOUR HOUSE RIGHT FROM UNDER YOU!
Well, before you panic, let me help you understand what “title theft” really is and why you shouldn’t be too worried.
In these deed fraud scenarios, bad guys are typically on the lookout for vacant land, residential properties in great disrepair (as if abandoned), rental properties, and the properties of folks who have passed away. Why these properties? What do they have in common?
In each situation you have owners who are easy targets because they are not living in the property.
First, the bad guys identify the property target which can be easily accomplished with a simple on-line search of the public records. Once the target property is chosen, the fraud usually unfolds in one of two ways:
- Either a fraudulent notary knowingly participates in the scheme and notarizes a forged signature on the deed with all the bad guys keeping the cash
- or the notary is innocent and the bad guys have gone to work to get fake ids to trick the honest notary.
With their plan in place, the bad guys can now sell the property, get a mortgage on it and take out the equity, or redirect the rent (this fraud is easily rectified but can cause an owner to lose rent before detected).
If this happens to you, the good news is that you have remedies. Your property cannot be legally “stolen” from you. It would be the buyer or lender whose title insurance would cover the loss if they were smart enough to get title insurance as part of the transaction. If they were not, it is their money that was stolen, not your property. You will get the property back, but a buyer or lender without title insurance will likely never recover their investment
Here at Merideth Nagel & The Legacy Legal team, we have experience IN COURT fighting bad guys just like this and are experienced in the process of getting a judge to set aside or disregard these types of fraudulent documents. If you have a question about how that process works, or title fraud in general, we would be happy to assist you. Please give us a call at (352) 394-7408.
The question still remains: should you buy that insurance? Before pushing that button, ask the agent what exactly it is that you’d be paying for. It’s important to know that you can search your property records yourself for free with just a few minutes online, as frequently as you would like. And, since you can check the history yourself, what will the insurance cover if this fraud happens? Remember, you will get your property back without them and I am unaware of any of these policies that actually cover your attorney’s fees in getting the property back. In any event, just don’t pay for the coverage without a clear understanding of precisely what it is protecting against.
In the meantime, don’t let those late-night ads keep you up – you’ve got more important things to worry about!