In early February of 2019, NBC Philadelphia announced that stolen homes through deed fraud was on the rise. In fact, reports say there was a 70 percent spike in the number of people in Philadelphia who alleged that they were victims of deed fraud. While this crime is certainly not unique to Pennsylvania, the high increase prompted a crackdown.
Perhaps, one of the most disheartening findings is that low-income communities are disproportionately affected by this crime. People of color and the elderly were also identified as key targets. Additionally, homes that owners left unoccupied were particularly vulnerable.
Why the problem persists
But, how does this go undetected? Part of the problem lies in the fact that there is no rigid verification process in place at The Philadelphia Records Department. The department accepts all deed transfers that are notarized and properly filled out. To make the document appear legitimate, not only are criminals forging signatures, but they also replicate the stamps used by notaries.
Possible solutions to consider
People who own vacant properties should visit them regularly and collect any mail. This helps to deter thieves. It is also a good idea to routinely check the county records online to ensure there are no unapproved changes.
Identity theft protection company, LifeLock, also cautions Americans to look out for the following warning signs:
- A notice of an unpaid bill or a missing utility bill
- Signs of activity in a home that should be unoccupied
- A notice of foreclosure when there is no mortgage on the home
Hopefully, the crackdown on deed fraud will result in a rapid reduction in the number of homeowners scammed out of their inheritance and personal investments. Until then, residents may need to do their own due diligence.