Real estate Q&A: What’s the best way to prevent title fraud?

Q: Recently, there has been an emphasis on stealing titles and the loss of a home. What is the best way to check on the status of our titles and prevent our properties from being stolen? —James

A: Real estate title fraud is a severe but fortunately rare event.

In a typical real estate transaction, a deed is signed and notarized and gets recorded in your county’s official records.

A title company or attorney typically does this, but anyone who knows how to meet the requirements can register a document in the public records.

Along with modern conveniences, technology has made it easier for fraudsters to create a fake deed, making it seem like you deeded your home to a new owner. This fake new owner will typically wait a few months and then try to sell the property or take a mortgage loan against it.

Vacant and vacation houses are more at risk than homes that people live in full time.

Fraudsters have been known to monitor death certificates and target properties where the next of kin lives in a different state.

The best defense against title fraud is paying attention.

You can monitor what is recorded in the public records in most places by visiting the recording office’s website and searching for your name. If you do this every month or two, you will quickly learn about anything mentioning you in the public domain.

In Broward County, Florida, for example, the property appraiser’s office has a free service you can sign up for that will alert you if a deed for your house is recorded. While this service is not available everywhere, you should check where you live.

Anyone who has purchased a home can tell you of the mountain of junk mail and advertising you get after your deed is recorded. If this happens to you, check the public records.

If you are a victim of this type of fraud, you should contact law enforcement. You also may need to hire a lawyer to fix the problem.

While it is impossible to avoid becoming a victim of crime, diligence is your best defense.