Many of us have been – or at least know – victims of car theft or jewellery theft…but what about house theft?
It might sound a bit outlandish, but title fraud is not unknown in Ontario, while police on Vancouver Island recently warned residents to be on guard against scammers using fake passports and online deception to sell residential property out from under the noses of the real owners.
According to a report in the Times Colonist, a series of attempts have been made by fraudsters impersonating owners in communications with property managers, realtors and lawyers, including one scammer who managed to get a property listed for sale, even welcoming prospective buyers for showings before a suspicious neighbour alerted the real owner and the fraud unravelled.
But not everyone is lucky enough to have such nosy neighbours – B.C.’s land titles office also warned that at least one scammer has successfully stolen title to a home after reaching out to a property manager and mining them for more information on the real owner.
Everyone in the business – including lawyers and realtors – needs to be vigilant about vetting their clients, watching for red flags, including changes in communication methods, excessive urgency to complete the deal or listings below market value.
Homeowners can do their bit too to minimize the chances of title theft, using some of the same techniques that work for identity protection, since the scam depends on a criminal being able to pass themselves off as the real property holder.
That means secure storage of key documents – including passports, birth certificates and social insurance numbers – proper disposal of sensitive records like bank statements and household bills, as well as minimal sharing of personal information on social media or elsewhere online.
Extra care should be taken by those with rental properties, vacation homes or cottages, as fraudsters are most likely to target houses not occupied by the owner.
A lawyer can also help you carry out a title search at the local land registry office to set your mind at ease if you’re worried the property may be in someone else’s name. As a home owner, you can also purchase title insurance to protect you against fraud. Disclaimer: The content on this website is provided for general information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other professional advice or an opinion of any kind. Users of this web site are advised to seek specific legal advice by contacting members of Laredo Law (or their own legal counsel) regarding any specific legal issues.
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