Washington State Department of Financial Institutions

Fake Documents Used to “Steal” Homes

Criminals are filing fake deeds to gain control of homes, often those belonging to the elderly, according to recent reports. A con artist can attempt to "steal" a house by falsely claiming to be the owner of a property or the owner's adult child who has the authority to conduct business for the family.

The perpetrator typically targets nice homes that are vacant for a long time, perhaps because the owner is away for the winter or is receiving extended medical treatment. The thief then goes to the courthouse and files a fraudulent deed that, in legitimate circumstances, can be a simple way to transfer the ownership of property from one person to another. After the courthouse records show the criminal as having the deed to the property, he will attempt to sell it and take off with the cash.

"Because the house is not being lived in, this fraud can go undetected for quite a while," said David Nelson, a fraud specialist in the FDIC's Financial Crimes Section. To protect yourself, he suggested "making sure the house looks lived-in while you are away," such as by arranging for mail and newspapers to be picked up or forwarded.

Source: FDIC Consumer News

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