HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — It’s called home title fraud or deed fraud. A scammer will target homes that no longer have a mortgage or have accumulated substantial equity. They can get your personal information from the internet and then file the necessary paperwork to transfer ownership of your property to themselves, using forged signatures and fake identification. They then sell the home or borrow against the equity.
How common is this scam?
“We do not see that happening here,” Jim Zugay, Dauphin County Recorder of Deeds said.
Each county has a Recorder of Deeds and they keep an eye out for fraud. Zugay says several counties in the Midstate and the surrounding area use electronic recording, which cuts down on fraud.
“We partner with companies that act as a portal or a middle person. They go to law offices and title companies and they get the document electronically sent to them and that document is then sent to us,” Zugay said.
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Cumberland County Recorder of Deeds Tammy Shearer said her office has been eRecording since 2012 and is just below 90% of all documents being submitted through eRecording.
“This has been a fantastic tool for filers. Individuals cannot eRecord. eRecording companies only accept documents from organizations such as attorneys, title companies, etc. who have registered with the eRecording company. For this reason, eRecording can help confirm the validity of documents by the nature of the process,” Shearer said.
Red flags to look out for.
If a property owner does not receive a tax bill, or if a name has been added or removed on the tax bill you should contact tax assessment or the Recorder of Deeds’ Office.
Is paying for home title fraud protection necessary?
There are an increasing number of ads encouraging homeowners to purchase Home Title Protection.
“As much as some of these organizations try to scare you into buying some of this insurance, whatever they do, it still has to wait for the fraud to occur before they alert you. There is no way they can alert you prior to it happening. So, you are paying for something you may already be getting from your recorder’s office,” Zugay said.
“Unfortunately, there are various companies and high-profile individuals who are buying TV ad time and sending letters to unsuspecting homeowners to scare them into purchasing “protection services” for their own benefit and personal financial gain. As the Recorder, I do try to keep an eye on our recordings, and if any case seems questionable, the District Attorney will be contacted,” Shearer said.
Property owners can check 24/7 to see whether any documents have been recorded in their name.
Cumberland County land records can be accessed here for a small fee.
Dauphin County land records can be accessed here for free.
Check your local county website to see what your Recorder of Deeds offers.