According to a recent article posted by the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA) by Frank Pellegrini March 2008, the FBI identified house-stealing as “the latest scam on the block.” The agency’s predictions proved true. In its most recent report, the Internet Crime Complaint Center of the FBI (www.ic3.gov) reported that, from 2015 to 2019, there was a 62 percent increase in real estate fraud complaints. In 2019 alone, the bureau reported that 11,667 people fell victim to house-stealing which cost a combined total of over $221 million dollars in losses. The amount of combined losses tripled in that short, four-year period. Illinois ranks ninth in the country in number of victims and sixth in the country in total value of losses due to house-stealing.
House-stealing is surprisingly easy. A thief can simply pick a house, forge the owner’s signatures on a deed placing himself on title and then record the fake deed. People who are most at risk of this house-stealing scam are those who own vacant homes and homeowners experiencing financial difficulty. While the problem of house-stealing is on the rise, there are ways to avoid this scam.
The best way to defend against this or other frauds against property owners is to periodically visit the county recorder of deeds website to look for any discrepancies in your title records, much like you might check your credit report for anything out of the ordinary. This is a quick and free solution available to anyone. Another option is to register for services offered by many county recorder’s offices. All you have to do is provide your e-mail, phone number, or mailing address to the county recorder’s office and they will automatically send an alert anytime there is activity on the title. For owners of out-of-state property, sixteen other states, including Florida, Wisconsin, and Indiana, also have fraud alert programs. There are many private companies that also offer fraud alert services. If you choose to purchase private company services, make sure that you thoroughly check the background and credentials of the company.
There are some tell-tale signs to watch for with this type of fraud. If your utility bills, real estate tax bills, assessment notices, or rent payments stop coming in, or if statements for new loans or default notices arrive, you may have a problem.
If you think you might be the victim of a house-stealing scam, call us. We can help.
John D. Galarnyk, Esq.
Andrew J. Cunniff, Esq.
John A. Romanucci, Esq.