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How to protect your home from mortgage and real estate title fraud

Real estate title and mortgage fraud are on the rise. Thieves and fraud artists can, in fact, steal your home. The most vulnerable group of people in Canada are seniors, especially those who are mortgage-free.

These types of fraud can take on many different forms; the perpetrators are sophisticated and they use modern technology to their advantage. And, for the most part, these major crimes are committed with the use of the correct documentation and the knowledge about how the real estate process works. First Canadian Title, a title insurance company, estimates that mortgage fraud in Canada has surpassed $100 million in total value. Real estate or title fraud happens about twice a week in Canada, with most victims elderly. But, by taking some simple precautions, you can prevent it from happening to you.



How does real estate title fraud happen?

When you bought your home the ownership was transferred to you and you were given the title to the property in your name. The government land registration documented this and anyone searching the records will see you as the owner.

Real estate fraud occurs when a thief obtains the title to your property through a fraudulent transfer document. Unfortunately it can be very simple and it is almost always tied into an event of identity theft. The fraud artist will target your house, forge the transfer deed and then register the title to the property in their name. Next, they forge a discharge of the existing mortgage and then borrow against the clear title. Of course the fraudster does not make any payments and when the lender serves notice that it intends to foreclose, the scheme is at that point brought to the attention of the real owner.

How much is the average case of title fraud worth?

According to First Canadian Title, the average case of real estate title fraud is around $300,000. Unfortunately it's rare that the criminals who perpetrate these schemes are caught, let alone brought to justice. Other types of mortgage and title fraud can involve spousal impersonation and lawyers who fail to pay off and discharge a mortgage.

What kinds of properties are targeted?

Thieves often target properties that are mortgage free and where the owners have a good credit rating. This allows them to apply for a significant mortgage. There are occasions where mortgage and title fraud are committed by people who are close to the victim, such as paid caregivers. Seniors are particularly vulnerable to this type of fraud.

Why are seniors often targeted?


Most cases of real estate title and mortgage fraud start with identity theft. This can take many forms.  Most often it involves the use of forged or stolen identification.  Your driver’s licence, Social Insurance Number (SIN) card, birth certificate, citizenship card, and passport can all be used to apply for credit cards, loans, mortgages, cell phones, and purchases.  They can even be used to sell your home without your knowledge.  In the event of identity theft, a victim can face financial losses, banking issues and ruined credit history.  Generally, the losses from real estate title or mortgage fraud are devastating with homeowners paying thousands of dollars in legal fees to defend their title, and often times do not win. Protecting that information is essential.

20 steps to help prevent identity theft:


The following precautions will protect you against identity theft, as a critical safeguard against title fraud:

Websites about fraud
You and your family should be knowledgeable about con schemes. There are two websites that you should visit regularly to monitor what fraudsters are doing. These are PhoneBusters and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

PhoneBusters is a third-party consumer watchdog organization, and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre is the Government of Canada’s answer to the same problem.


Read our complete guide to seniors and real estate or view our Seniors's real estate agents directory



What to do if you suspect fraud

If you suspect that someone has been tampering with your credit or identity, immediately contact one of the three credit reporting agencies to place a fraud alert on your credit report. They are: Equifax, Experian and Trans Union. You can also subscribe to a membership with the agencies so that you may better monitor your credit for suspicious activity.

Overall, being watchful is one of the best ways to protect against identity theft and other types of fraud. Seniors should be aware that there are products out there that can offer added security for a relatively low cost. These include credit watch products, identity theft protection and real estate title insurance. They are worth every penny.

Sherri Moro, B.A., ABR*, SRES**, is an annually award winning Halton area REALTOR® with Sutton Group Quantum Realty Inc., Brokerage. For over ten years, her very successful consultative approach and innovative strategies have provided preferential client service in both the marketing and purchase of Halton area residential properties. Sherri is also a licensed Mortgage Agent with RBL Capital Inc. #10583 and can assist you with all your borrowing and refinancing needs. Visit her at www.OakvilleDreamHomes.com . *Accredited Buyer Representative, **Specially Designated to Serve the 50+ Market.

Some statistics updated for 2019, by Jim Huinink, editor of ComfortLife.ca.

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