Identity theft and fraud protection for your finances, personal info, and devices.
Can Someone Actually Steal Your Home Title?
A home may be the last thing you’d think scammers could steal. But they can, and they do. Just last month, two Orange County residents were charged by a federal grand jury for stealing the identities of elderly Vietnamese-American homeowners and cashing out over $2 million of the victims’ home equity [*].
A home title is proof of home ownership — in the form of a deed — filed with a county government.
Home title theft, also known as deed theft or title fraud, happens when a house title is fraudulently transferred to another person. Thieves steal your house deed to use as collateral for loans, withdraw your home equity, or sell your home for cash.
While the FBI hasn't labeled home title theft as a fast-growing crime in America, it is most seen in densely populated cities. For example, from 2014 to the present, the New York City Sheriff's Office has received 3,500 complaints of deed theft [*].
Learning how to protect your deed and what to do if you suspect real estate fraud can reduce your risk of title and identity theft.
5 Ways To Prevent Home Title Theft
House stealing is easier than you’d imagine. Although county recorders must confirm that an owner’s ID matches deed paperwork, scammers can steal a victim’s driver’s license or present a forged ID.
Beyond the ID check, county recorders aren’t responsible for any other methods of verifying the authenticity of newly filed deeds [*]. In Los Angeles County, if documents meet the county’s page size, layout, and notary requirements, and the owner pays the county’s fee, the deed is recorded [*].
To decrease their chances of being caught, fraudsters target seniors or owners of vacant properties, vacation homes, and rental properties. These groups are vulnerable because they have significant home equity and may not notice or receive mail that is related to their properties.
Scammers go after low-income minorities, too, duping them into transferring home titles to “avoid foreclosures.” Here are five ways to keep your deed — and your personal identity — safe.
1. Monitor your mail and bills
Your mail may be one of the first places where evidence of title theft shows up; so monitor your water, utility, and property tax assessment bills closely.
If you suddenly stop receiving them, it could mean that a scammer changed your address. Contact your assessor and tax collectors’ offices about the issue to confirm your mailing address on file.
Pay careful attention to letters from your mortgage company, as well. Earlier this year, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) warned consumers of a new home warranty scam that notifies you of an expiring warranty [*]. Should you respond or renew said warranty, you will inadvertently have signed up for a new product.
These letters often bury disclaimers such as, “Not all consumers have previous coverage. We are not affiliated with your current mortgage.” Call your mortgage company's support line to verify any such notices.
Beware that thieves can also refinance your mortgage and open loans in your name. Receiving a payment book from a mortgage lender that you don’t recognize is a telltale sign that a scammer is using your address to commit fraud. Pay attention to notices of foreclosure as well — scammers who gain unlawful control of your property are unlikely to make loan payments.
Finally, shred sensitive documents after reviewing them. Thieves can rifle through your trash for documents that reveal personally identifiable information (PII) needed to steal your identity and/or create a fake ID.
2. Be cautious about sharing personal information online
Phishing scams, a form of social engineering, are common conduits to identity and home title theft. Be wary of any messages or emails that display a brash sense of urgency. Here’s what phishing can look like:
- Direct messages (DMs) on social media from someone you don’t know.
- Texts from someone impersonating one of your family members who is, ostensibly, in danger.
- Emails from a title company claiming that you’re the victim of home title theft. These may even demand sensitive information to supposedly lock your deed.
- Phone calls from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) insisting that you’re under investigation.
Be suspicious of spam emails and texts, especially those with odd salutations, mangled grammar, and links or attachments. And never disclose personal details.
Homeowners in default or foreclosure are particularly vulnerable to cybercrime. Grifters advertise generous loan modifications for a small upfront fee. When victims comply, they unwittingly sign over their titles.
3. Check your property records often
Property records reveal if and when a property has changed hands. Some local county clerks, recorders, auditors, or state registries of deeds may allow you to search for and review your property records online.
For example, the Los Angeles County Assessor’s Office has an Assessor Portal on which you can search for property records by AIN or address [*]. As you examine your property records, look for:
- Titles that you don’t recognize — they could indicate a forged deed.
- Loans that you didn’t secure. Fraudsters could use them to make big purchases or even buy other homes.
- Liens for contractors that you didn’t hire. Scammers could renovate your home in preparation for renters or a sale.
- Court filings related to your property or other outstanding debts.
Consider registering for your county’s consumer notification service, if it has one. Los Angeles County has an Enhanced Homeowner Notification Program that mails owners copies of documents recorded against their homes, such as [*]:
- Changes in ownership
- Loans against your home
- Notices of Default
- Notices of Sale
Also, remember to visit unoccupied property regularly. Scammers can rent out your home without your knowledge.
4. Review your credit reports
Your credit report can also reveal signs of fraud such as new lines of credit, failed payments, and tax liens; review it multiple times throughout the year. All consumers in the United States can get a free annual credit report from each credit bureau via its website:
Until December 2023, you can request a copy of each of your three credit reports per week at AnnualCreditReport.com. When you review your credit report, look for:
- Hard inquiries that may indicate a scammer opened a new line of credit.
- Unfamiliar mortgages, which may mean a scammer has refinanced your home or bought a new one under your name.
- Home equity lines of credit (HELOC) that could be used to borrow against your equity to buy vehicles, electronics, appliances, or vacations.
- Unknown lenders, with whom you have late payments or no payment history at all.
- New utility accounts or rental leases — both are signs that a scammer is living in your home or plans to have tenants.
- Bankruptcies, liens on your property, or foreclosures.
If you discover an error on your credit report, dispute it with each agency. You can do so online at:
Or, you can mail in your dispute form. As you fill out your form, include:
- Your contact information.
- A copy of your credit report with the errors highlighted or circled.
- Each error you want fixed, along with the associated account number.
- A clear explanation of the dispute and a request to have the information removed or corrected.
- Copies of any other documents that support your claims.
If you don’t hear back from the agency, or if it refuses to fix the error, file a complaint with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
5. Obtain home title monitoring
Some counties may not offer a reliable notification service, and checking your property records in person can be impractical. Even if your county does have a notification program, important alerts will arrive via physical mail, giving scammers more time to damage your credit.
Home title protection services automatically detect changes to your deed. These send near-instant alerts of any changes to your title or address and initiate a home title lock (similar to a credit lock) if needed.
The best home title monitoring plans are part of comprehensive services that notify you of changes to your credit, bank, and investment accounts as well as any attempts to use your name or Social Security number (SSN). Some even come with 24/7 access to fraud specialists and generous identity theft insurance coverage.
Note: Home title monitoring services are different from home title insurance policies. Insurance companies protect you in the event of undiscovered liens or lawsuits.
Home title monitoring identifies suspicious activity related to your property title as it happens, allowing you to report and stop home title fraud as quickly as possible.
💡 Related: Home Title Lock vs. LifeLock: Which Is Better? →
How To Report Fraud
If you suspect that you’re the victim of deed fraud, take action immediately. Below, we’ve outlined what to do, and the documents you’ll need on hand.
File an identity theft report with the FTC and FBI’s IC3
Filing a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) improves the chances that scammers are caught and stopped. Start the process by visiting ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
You’ll be asked to describe the type of crime (e.g., “credit, debit or loan”) and how it unfolded. Have dates, transaction amounts, and any details of the perpetrator ready. While you can’t upload documents to the report, you can copy and paste text from property records or reference specific county court cases.
The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) investigates cybercrimes, including elder fraud. If you’re the victim of a phishing scam, file a complaint at ic3.gov.
You’ll need to provide your name, address, telephone number, and email address — along with relevant financial transaction information, the entity committing the crime, and specific details about how you were victimized. In both reports, the more detail you can provide, the better.
Contact the register of deeds and local law enforcement
Find the contact number for your county’s Department of Consumer and Business Affairs or Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk, or use your county’s online complaint form to start a report. Be ready to share:
- Your property’s address
- Whether you are an individual property owner or landlord
- Whom your complaint is against
- Your credit report
- A copy of your original deed
- A copy of the forged deed
Filing a police report can help identify local suspects — especially if they’ve committed this type of crime in your area before. Police reports can also bolster your case when disputing fraud on your credit report.
Confirm home ownership
You can prove home ownership by filing a quiet title action, a type of lawsuit intended to establish or settle a deed [*]. This type of legal action challenges the party asserting ownership of your property and can prove that the title is yours.
First, obtain a physical copy of your deed from the county clerk or records office. Then, find a real estate attorney to draft the complaint and file the suit in court.
A judge will review the case and issue a court order regarding ownership. If you win, the title is considered closed, and no further challenges to your title can be raised.
Enable a fraud alert or credit freeze on your credit reports
If a scammer has forged your deed and ID, they can easily commit other forms of identity fraud — racking up credit card charges and tanking your credit score. Initiating a credit freeze restricts you, and anyone else, from opening a new line of credit in your name.
You can freeze your credit for free at the three major credit bureaus — Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Create an account using your personal details (including your SSN) and follow their instructions for placing a freeze.
If you’ve filed a police report or completed an FTC identity theft report at IdentityTheft.gov, you may qualify for an extended fraud alert [*]. These alerts force lenders to take extra steps to verify your identity before processing any applications and last for seven years.
Contact all credit grantors or banks
Call your lenders and banks to let them know that you may be the victim of home title or identity theft. Close any new fraudulent accounts opened in your name, and request that fraudulent charges be refunded.
To expedite recourse, ask if you can upload the documents that you’ve collected — FTC report, police report, bank and loan statements — to a secure portal for their review.
Stay Ahead of Title Fraud With Identity Guard
In addition to the five steps described above, there are a few extra measures you can take to avoid deed fraud and protect against identity theft:
- Do your due diligence before buying a new property. Homebuyers should pull public records of the property that they’re buying to see if there have been multiple title transfers or quitclaim deeds. These types of deeds release a person’s interest in a property without stating their interest or rights [*]. Because they lack protections found in other deeds, the only legitimate use for quitclaim deeds is to transfer property to close family members.
- Avoid a rushed sale. Scammers trying to get rid of stolen property will want to close fast — don’t give in. Ask your real estate agent or a lawyer to run security checks against the seller. Always ask to see multiple forms of identification before proceeding with a sale.
- Initiate a probate as soon as possible for any inherited property. If a family member has left you property, claim it before a scammer can forge the deed or rent out the home. Bring the original will with you to court, and ask a judge to appoint an estate representative to legally distribute the property to you.
- Protect your identity. Use unique passwords for every account, and perform antivirus scans regularly. Consider using a virtual private network (VPN) to mask your browsing history, and limit what people can see on your social media profiles. Opt out of as many broker lists as possible so that scammers can’t get your phone number for phishing or smishing attacks.
Even with these precautions, there's no guarantee of absolute security. And without home title monitoring, you may not know that you’re a victim of mortgage fraud until it’s too late.
Identity Guard’s home title monitoring tracks changes to your deed so that you don’t have to do this yourself. Protect your biggest investment with fast title activity alerts, and take advantage of Identity Guard’s comprehensive identity theft protection.
Always-on credit monitoring, Dark Web monitoring, and near real-time data breach notifications are also included with every Identity Guard plan.