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Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Can Thieves Steal Your Home?

 By Catherine Philips

Image courtesy pxhere

Unless you live in a tiny house or a mobile home, most homeowners don't believe it's possible for thieves to steal their home.  But what some people are learning the hard way is that crooks don't have to rent a tractor trailer to haul away their domicile.  All they have to do is go down to city hall and get a copy of their deed.  Then they're off to the races.  Called house stealing, this crime is one of the fastest growing and most lucrative ripoffs around.  Below I'll show you how this crime works, how it can cost you your home, and what you can do to thwart the thieves.

This crime can hit you right where you live!

According to the FBI, thieves can target your vacation home, your rental property, or the home you currently live in.  Then all they have to do is a little online research to find out who owns it, and use this information to create a fake ID.  With this in hand, they can transfer your deed into their name.  After that, the thieves are at liberty to take out a home equity loan on your property, or legally sell your home right out from under you because as far as the law is concerned they now own it.  Here's what an FBI blog entitled, "House Stealing - The Latest Scam on the Block," had to say: 

"Last year, a real estate business owner in southeast Los Angeles pled guilty to leading a scam that defrauded more than 100 homeowners and lenders out of some $12 million. She promised to help struggling homeowners pay their mortgages by refinancing their loans. Instead, she and her partners in crime used stolen identities or “straw buyers” (people who are paid for the illegal use of their personal information) to purchase these homes. They then pocketed the money they borrowed but never made any mortgage payments. In the process, the true owners lost the title to their homes and the banks were out the money they had loaned to fake buyers."'

Victims of house stealing many times are unaware that they've been targeted until one of three things happens:
  1. A homeowner receives a payment book from a mortgage company other than their own that says they owe tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for a loan they never initiated.  When the homeowner calls the mortgage company, they discover that they're on the hook for the loan.  If they refuse to pay, the mortgage company will soon initiate foreclosure proceedings, which could put the legitimate homeowner out on the street.
  2. A moving truck shows up in a homeowner's front yard loaded with furniture.  At first assuming the movers have gone to the wrong address, the homeowner soon finds that the address is correct and the new owners have a bonafide deed and bill of sale.
  3. The sheriff shows up to evict the homeowners from their own home.  Whether the eviction was initiated by a mortgage company or by the new "owner" of their property, as long as the proper paperwork has been filled out, it isn't unusual for the wheels of justice to roll right over a homeowner whose deed has been stolen.
Image courtesy pxhere
Don't think it can happen to you? A recent story from Channel 8 News in Dunedin, Florida reported, "John Whitt Jenkins is thankful to have his Dunedin house back after he discovered someone quietly filed public documents, claiming they bought it from him.  In an instant, he no longer owned his house, and received nothing in return! 

They forged my signature and they had fake witnesses on there and a fictitious notary on there saying I sold my house for $160,000, and that was it and the county went with it,” Jenkins said. 

It took Jenkins two months to get his house back. According to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, the same man that stole Jenkins’ house, stole at least five other homes, too."

What was even more galling to Mr. Jenkins was when he learned the theft occurred online.  According to the newscast, the county didn't require an applicant to make an appearance or provide any further proof of ownership or identity to transfer the deed.  All they had to do was fill out an online form.

While some house thieves use the system against rightful owners, others are not above forging documents to commit the same crime.  Either way it can take months or even years to unravel the mess that a house thief can create.  To help alert homeowners to possible property fraud, some municipalities have initiated a process that informs homeowners if anyone files anything regarding their property.  While it won't necessarily stop house thieves in their tracks, it does give homeowners the ammunition they need to take corrective action ( by reporting the incident to the county clerk's office) before the thief can capitalize on the crime.  It also helps streamline the process of unwinding the scam.  If you wish to find out if this kind of alert is being offered in your area, the best thing to do is to either call the Clerk of Courts or visit their website.

Image courtesy pxhere
Other things you can do to mitigate the damage a house thief can cause are:
  1. Call the credit bureaus to freeze your credit.  This will prevent anyone from taking out a loan in your name.
  2. Invest in identity theft protection coverage. This way if you are targeted, you'll be notified and even reimbursed for out of pocket fraud mitigation expenses, including legal fees in many cases. 
  3. Keep a weather eye on your incoming mail.  If you receive any bills or statements that you don't recognize, this could be a warning that you've been targeted. Also be wary if any bills you normally receive stop coming to your address.
  4. Monitor your credit. Checking your credit report monthly could alert you to any new accounts or credit checks performed without your authorization.  If a credit check was run without your knowledge, this is a warning sign that someone other than you could be trying to open a new account in your name.
  5. Protect your personal and financial information.  That means you need to guard what you and your family divulge in social networks and chatrooms.  Identity thieves troll these sites looking to cull information that's been revealed by unwary consumers.  A little common sense can keep a house thief from eating you out of house and home.

Catherine Powell is the owner of A Plus All Florida, Insurance in Orange Park, Florida.  To find out more about saving money on all your insurance needs, check out her website at


  1. It used to be that a home was a man's castle. Nowadays it's more like the barbarians are at the gates.

  2. This was interesting and scary!


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