How to Prevent Title Theft: 10 Crucial Things Retirees Must Do

RETIREMENT - RETIRED LIFE
If you paid off your mortgage, be aware of the risk that someone could steal your home right through home title theft.
Updated May 8, 2024
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You’ve worked so hard at homeownership. A house is generally the largest purchase you will ever make, and paying off the mortgage may have been a goal before your retirement. But anywhere there is money to be made, bad actors will find a way to try to take yours.

Could someone swipe your house out from under you? That’s what title theft is, and while it is not very common, it is something you should understand and monitor over time.

That’s especially true for retirees and those who have paid off their mortgage. Your home’s value — and equity — can draw the attention of title thieves who wish to use it for their own benefit.

Here’s the reality of home title theft and how you can safeguard your property from such a scam.

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Educate yourself on title theft

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A home title theft involves someone claiming to be you and transferring the deed to your home into their name. This gives them the ability to steal the property and sell it. They forge the existing deed to transfer ownership of the property to themselves.

There are several potential end goals. They could refinance the home illegally, taking the equity in your home and forcing you to pay a second mortgage, or they may try to sell the home itself and pocket the purchase price.

Check your credit report regularly

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The best way to protect your financial health is to monitor your credit report on an ongoing basis. You are entitled to a free copy of each of your credit reports every year under federal law. AnnualCreditReport.com is the only website managed by all three credit bureaus from which you can get your free report.

To monitor consistently, request a copy of your credit report from one of the three credit bureaus every four months. Look for any changes in your identification information or accounts. If you find anything, dispute it with the associated credit bureau.

Pay attention to your utility bills and mail

Andrii Zastrozhnov/Adobe mature couple reading bank notice

In order for a home title theft to occur, a person must have some knowledge of who you are and be able to steal your identity long enough to claim ownership of the home. If you keep track of your bills and mail, you’ll accomplish two things.

First, you can ensure that your mail isn’t sitting in the mailbox for too long, making it easier to steal. And you’ll also be able to monitor your accounts for any changes, such as someone adding their name to your utility bill or someone having mail sent to your home in their name, all of which could later be used for identity theft.

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Don’t overlook your other parcels of land

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Seniors and retirees are often targets because they may own more than one piece of property. If you have a second home or a vacation property that you don’t use regularly, it may be prey for title thieves.

If you do have these properties, monitor them often. Be present or, if you cannot be, pay a neighbor to check in on a routine basis.

Invest in home title protection

crizzystudio/Adobe agreement contract Insurance home concept

Title protection isn’t something to overlook. It works as a type of monitoring tool, ensuring that any changes to your title, or attempts to change it, are fully understood and communicated with you.

A home title protection service, which typically has a very low cost, will alert you if any changes occur to your title, such as liens, court actions, deed changes, or any type of other legal action involving your title.

Limit access to your Social Security number

blas/Adobe identity theft on laptop computer

Home title theft involves identity theft, and by doing everything you can to protect your identity, you’ll reduce the risk of it happening to you. Your Social Security number is a starting point.

Don’t give it out to anyone who really doesn’t need it. Never carry your card in your wallet. That should be in a safe place in your home with other important documents.

Don’t click on links in emails

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Phishing scams can be a very costly mistake for many people, especially seniors and retirees, who may just want to settle concerns quickly. However, if you receive any type of email, voicemail, text, or any other communication begging for money, asking you to open attachments, or requiring you to click a link, don’t do it.

Phishing scams can seem like they come from retailers, utility companies, and even government agencies, but they are one of the most common ways your identity could be stolen.

Change your passwords

selinofoto/Adobe privacy security protection

You hear it all of the time, and it’s no fun to do, but changing your passwords for every website on a routine basis will protect your sensitive information. That’s especially true for insurance, government accounts, bank accounts, and all types of personal finance accounts.

Try to make your password really hard by incorporating a symbol into it and a mixture of letters and numbers that don’t spell something. Or use a password management system such as 1Password or RoboForm.

Purchase title insurance

Creative Clicks/Adobe elderly couple signing papers

Title insurance comes in two forms, one for lenders and one for homeowners. Lenders require title insurance to be sure there are no liens on the home. Homeowners may want to purchase title insurance to protect them from unforeseen liens or other claims on the property.

This doesn’t do any type of monitoring of your accounts, but it acts as a financial tool to use to help you get your home back should someone try to steal it from you.

If you feel at risk, consider purchasing title insurance that will protect against fraudulent claims against your title.

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Prevent pre-approved credit offers from coming to you

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Visit optoutprescreen.com or call 1-888-567-8688 to stop receiving unsolicited credit card pre-approved offers. This can help minimize the risk of someone stealing that information out of your mailbox and using it to take your identity.

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Bottom line

marls/Adobe ranch style model house

Home title theft may seem like something you don’t have to worry about, but that’s exactly when you’re at the highest risk. If you own your home or land, you could be susceptible to claims against it, and unfortunately, seniors are often the target.

If for any reason you suspect this has happened to you, contact your financial institutions to immediately freeze your account, report your identity theft to the county recorder’s office, and then contact the police.

After working for half your life, you are probably looking forward to your next stage. Taking steps to protect your investments, especially your home, can help you achieve a stress-free retirement.

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Author Details

Sandy Baker Sandy Baker is a has over 17 years of experience in the financial sector. Her experience includes website content, blogs, and social media. She’s worked with companies such as Realtor.com, Bankrate, TransUnion, Equifax, and Consumer Affairs.

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