Think of “identity theft” as a catch-all term that encompasses many different scams that share the common hallmarks of fraud. Tax identity theft is where a criminal uses your social security number to file your taxes and claim your refund before you do. Medical identity theft means your information is used to get medical care, prescription drugs, or run up bogus charges on your ID number. Child identity theft is when a thief uses a minor’s name, birth date, and information to obtain credit and create debt on the child’s name. The list goes on.
When it comes to protecting your home and mortgage, there are two different identity-theft schemes to be aware of: home-title fraud and mortgage fraud.
Home-title fraud occurs when a criminal obtains the deed to your home through fraudulent means and then secures loans using the home as collateral. (Or just sells it out from under you.) Once considered rare, this type of identity theft is a rapidly growing area in cybercrime. It is the end game of many steps in a larger process likely involving multiple criminal acts. First steal your personal information, then some passwords, some phony document transfers online, a little bit of wire fraud. Criminals max out the money they can pull from the house with the true owner unaware until foreclosure is happening. Popular targets of home-title fraud are elderly people with a lot of equity in their homes and wealthy people that own multiple homes. Criminals know these groups might not pick up on the clues that something phishy is going on.
The other type of identity theft crime that can threaten your home is mortgage fraud. One way mortgage fraud occurs is when a buyer or seller lies on an application. It is also mortgage fraud when an identity thief steals a person’s account number to obtain a second mortgage or home equity line of credit.
Here are three simple steps to help you avoid identity theft that threatens your home or mortgage:
Check your credit regularly.
There are numerous free ways to check your credit score. You are entitled to one free report annually, but banks, credit cards, and independent apps allow for free real-time monitoring. Any change in your score is explained. You can catch the scheme in the early stages with regular and ongoing credit score monitoring.
Give yourself a security check-up
Identity theft crimes that threaten your home or mortgage start with small interceptions of data. Protect yourself with an honest personal inventory of how easy you are making it for them. How secure are your passwords? Are they all the same thing? Have you used public WiFi or less-than-secure sites? Physical paperwork that isn’t secure can also provide a gateway for thieves. Are your mortgage and home documents sitting where a repair-person or ne’er-do-well-relative could find them? Do you shred documents with account numbers on them? Or could a thief find them in a recycling pile or landfill?
Proceed with skepticism and vigilance
Be wary of giving out any personal information. Use the security features on your phone and computer to keep the thieves out. Check your login history and device history on sites that have your personal or credit card information. Regular monitoring of your credit, your logins, your bank accounts, and your information disclosures are the best way to keep yourself protected.
The professionals at the Law Offices of Jeffrey Lohman specialize in cases of identity theft, mortgage fraud, and home title fraud. Our team has experience in helping victims; we stop thieves, prevent foreclosures, and fix damaged credit. Get help from us today.