Paid off your mortgage? Be careful — you’re at risk of title theft.

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Homeowners may be thrilled when they finally pay off their mortgage, but the accomplishment comes with risks. 

Retirement Tip of the Week: Be vigilant in protecting your identity and assets, and be aware of how you could fall victim to various scams or theft associated with your home.

With title theft, thieves transfer a house deed from the rightful owner to another person’s name by using the owner’s personal information. Title theft could also take the form of using equity in a home, such as by opening a home equity line of credit, known as a HELOC, according to Quicken Loans. When a house is unoccupied, thieves could go so far as to sell or rent out the property. 

Title theft isn’t particularly common, but it does happen, and it’s another reason people should protect their identity and other sensitive information. Older Americans could be at higher risk, especially if they have a lot of equity in their home. About 11,500 people reported losing more than $350 million to real-estate scams in 2021, although that figure includes fraud pertaining to real-estate advertisements and rental agreements, according to the FBI

Homeowners should keep on top of their documents and may even want to occasionally confirm their information with their county deeds office, the FBI said. Any mail from a mortgage lender should be checked to make sure it doesn’t pertain to your specific property.

If you are a victim of title theft, open an identity-theft case with the Federal Trade Commission, alert creditors about the fraud and look over your title insurance, which protects homeowners’ rights and which mortgage companies often require home buyers to have, Quicken Loans said

There are companies that offer title-protection services, although critics say it’s not the same as title insurance and only alerts a homeowner of a problem after it has occurred. 

“Do you need this service to protect your home from property thieves? The answer is no,” the Maryland Attorney General’s office said in a consumer alert about title-protection services. “Title fraud is very rare, and hardly ever successful. If someone ever tries to transfer your deed without your permission or knowledge, like these title lock companies suggest could happen, the transfer is fraudulent and void from the outset.” 

Instead, homeowners should monitor their identity and keep an eye on their credit scores, the office said.


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