• Dr. Timothy Smith

How Can Someone Steal Your House with You in It?


Photo Source: Max Pixel

For most people, their home makes up their largest purchase and, with typical property value appreciation rates, a significant part of their retirement planning. Imagine going about your usual business, living in a home you have paid the mortgage on diligently, and one day a law enforcement officer comes to seize your house for not paying the mortgage. Such a nightmare too often becomes a reality for home owners in many countries. According to an article titled, “House Stealing, the Latest Scam on the Block,” published online by the FBI in their “news stories” section, a family lost their home when an identity thief obtained the homeowners name, social security number, and bank account numbers and then made a fake identification to impersonate the real home owner. With the fake ID, the thief used property transfer documents obtained from an office supply store and officially transferred the title away from the family. Moreover, the thief then took out a mortgage on the property never intending to pay it back thereby, pocketing the value of the home. The formula appears frighteningly simple—steal someone’s identity, transfer the title of their home, take out a mortgage on the property, and walk away with the money. This scam is called “mortgage fraud.” Another variation on the mortgage fraud theme entails finding an empty rental property or vacation home, stealing the owner’s identity, and selling the home outright. Another scam involves renting a house under a false name, taking the owner’s identity, transferring the title, and selling the home.

Identity theft did not begin with the internet, but thieves have significantly benefited from the wealth of information available online. Identity theft continues to grow in the United States driven by the internet. An online Harris Poll in 2018 revealed that over sixty million Americans, or one in five Americans, have been affected by identity theft, and the trend continues to increase. Identity theft supports many types of crime such as bank fraud, insurance fraud, and medical records theft. According to an article by Robert Lord titled, “The Real Threat of Identity Theft Is In Your Medical Records, Not Credit Cards,” the fastest growing segment of identity theft involves medical records due to their high resale value of up to $100 per record. The common thread that links these crimes consists of the acquisition of personal information. The most spectacular examples of identity theft involve hackers accessing large databases held by commercial companies, health insurers, and government institutions. For instance, in 2015, the credit information broker Experian lost the personal information of fifteen million people to hackers. However, smaller time fraudsters can gather significant information about the person they have in their sights by merely looking online. A name search often provides an address, phone number, and for just a few dollars additional information from sites such as TruthFinder.com and BeenVerified.com reveal information such as arrest records, current and former addresses, and even names of relatives. Such information makes it easier for thieves to find social security numbers, bank accounts, and mortgage and title information.

The threat of identity theft menaces us all and the elderly get heavily targeted, but the government and many other institutions such as credit bureaus offer advice on protection of your identity from theft. The identity theft section on usa.gov lists many suggestions for preventing identity theft. Here are five essential recommendations:

1.Never give out your social security number out unless absolutely necessary and do not carry your social security card with you. If someone asks for your social security number when signing up for something like a rewards program, politely decline and ask if they will use something else for their form.

2.Do not give personal information (name, bank account, driver’s license number, birthdate, etc.) for unsolicited requests either in person or over the phone.

3.Stay on top of bills, bank balances, and credit card statements and respond immediately to unusual activity.

4.Check your credit report to watch for accounts opened in your name without your consent, which will alert you to fraudulent mortgage applications.

5.Be sure to shred all your documents with your information such as utility bills, credit card statements and even credit card solicitations. Shredding prevents thieves from going through your trash or recycle and getting valuable information and those credit card applications that they use to open an account in your name

Identity theft affects millions of people, resulting in credit card theft, medical insurance fraud, and mortgage fraud. Mortgage fraud entails the scarily simple process of a thief stealing a homeowner’s identity, creating a fake identification, transferring the title of the home, and then taking a loan out on the house while the owners still live there. Identity thieves need vital pieces of information such as social security numbers, birthdates, driver’s license numbers, and bank accounts. To protect your home and family from identity theft, safeguard your key information and follow some key steps such as regularly checking your credit report and never give out your personal information over the phone or by email. Protecting your home and family now entails not just physical protection of property from theft and damage but the virtual protection through good identity security.

Dr. Timothy Smith

Dr. Smith’s career in scientific and information research spans the areas of bioinformatics, artificial intelligence, toxicology, and chemistry. He has published a number of peer-reviewed scientific papers. He has worked over the past seventeen years developing advanced analytics, machine learning, and knowledge management tools to enable research and support high level decision making. Tim completed his Ph.D. in Toxicology at Cornell University and a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the University of Washington.

You can buy his book on Amazon in paperback and in kindle format here.

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