According to the FBI, Property and Mortgage fraud is the fastest growing white-collar crime in the United States. Unfortunately, it has become all too easy for a criminal to record a fraudulent deed, making it appear as if they own your home.  In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Sybil Patrick says “the clues were there for months” yet she didn’t put them together: the locks to her vacant brownstone in Harlem had been changed and possessions were moved around with seemingly no explanation. Finally, she discovered that “the house had been sold, without her knowledge, about a year earlier for roughly $750,000.” Using documents available online, cyber criminals managed to steal Ms. Patrick’s identity and sell the home, an increasingly common crime, as there are now approximately 120 cases under investigation in New York alone.

As the article outlines, the rise in these crimes is “an unintended consequence of an effort to put documents on the Internet to promote transparency in local real-estate markets.” In cities such as New York, for instance, internet users can gain access to deeds, mortgages, and other documents that include enough personal information to make it easier to obtain private details such as social security numbers and birth dates.

Hot property markets, such as New York and Seattle, are frequently targeted by deed fraud criminals, given the speed at which they can turn a property sale. Wall Street Journal says “swindlers often price homes just below market values, putting pressure on buyers to snap them up as quickly as possible, preferably with all cash.”

Thankfully Ms. Patrick’s story has a happy ending, as the criminal is now behind bars, she was granted possession of the home, “and the buyers were able to settle with their title insurance company to get repaid.” Homeowners are encouraged to educate themselves about deed fraud and to know the top signs to look out for. Want to ensure you’re doing your best to protect yourself? Check out a collection of helpful videos at Home Title Lock here.