No longer is identity theft about safeguarding your mail, credit cards and bank account. Bad actors have evolved in their treachery and have moved on to stealing homeownership through title fraud. With a few forged documents, scammers can satisfy the recording requirements with the County Recorder, thereby changing title to the property and effectively stealing ownership rights.
You might be wondering how this type of fraud was possible. Fraudsters create forged title documents and file them with the Office of the County Recorder. Until recently, many of those crimes went undiscovered until the homeowner had a reason to check on title during a refinance or sale of their home.
The District Attorney’s Office fights this type of fraud with a dedicated team of prosecutors and investigators who work collaboratively with the Assessor/Recorder/County Clerk’s office to bring fraudsters to justice. However, often the damage to victims has already been done.
The San Diego County Assessor/Recorder/County Clerk launched a system that will protect homeowners through a Recording Notification Service, free to all members of the public. Consumers may register online to receive an e-mail alert within 48 hours whenever a document is recorded on a registered property. Homeowners can register up to five names and five Assessor’s Parcel Numbers (APN). This service will allow consumers to get ahead of fraudsters before they’ve had the opportunity to do real damage to a property.
Until recently, there were no systems in place to notify the rightful owner that title had been stolen. This gave fraudsters valuable time to obtain loans using the property as collateral or when the property is vacant, install renters and even sell the home to an unsuspecting buyer.
Consumers may register online by going to the San Diego County Assessor / Recorder / County Clerk website at: https://arccprn.sandiegocounty.gov/
Here are some tips to avoid title fraud:
- Sign up for the Recording Notification System
- Search the official County index for documents previously recorded under your name and your property.
- Use caution with online signature applications such as Docusign – read the full document to ensure it’s the correct contract and keep a copy of the signed version.
- If you have a second home or vacant home, check it regularly to ensure there are no squatters, unwanted renters or fraudsters attempting to occupy the home – this can be as simple as installing an internet-based webcam at the home.
- Ensure your property tax bill is paid on time and is in your name.
- Ensure all your utilities are paid on time and are in your name.
- Continue to take steps to protect yourself from basic identity theft.
If you believe you were the victim of a title fraud, report the incident to a local police agency or request a San Diego District Attorney Real Estate Fraud Complaint Form at email@example.com. For more information, please visit our website at https://www.sdcda.org/preventing/real-estate-fraud/.
As your District Attorney, I’m committed to increasing communication and accessibility between the DA’s Office and the public. I hope these consumer and public safety tips have been helpful.