On March 25, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a warning to consumers about a new form of fraud. The new threat:
House Stealing = Identity theft + Mortgage Fraud
According to the FBI, here's how the scam works:
"The con artists start by picking out a house to steal—say, YOURS. Next, they assume your identity—getting a hold of your name and personal information (easy enough to do off the Internet) and using that to create fake IDs, social security cards, etc. Then, they go to an office supply store and purchase forms that transfer property. After forging your signature and using the fake IDs, they file these deeds with the proper authorities, and lo and behold, your house is now THEIRS."
With the deed, criminals can sell the house right from under you and pocket the cash. According to the Boston Herald newspaper:
"It’s happened in Dorchester. Police last year arrested three people at the Suffolk County Registry of Deeds after they tried to sell the home of a former nun and Catholic school teacher out from under her. Andre J. Lamerique, 25, of Sharon, Carmella F. Lassegue, 26, of Hyde Park, and Judy A. Bonas, 51, of New York, were charged with conspiracy, identity fraud and aiding and abetting after they allegedly stole the identity of Judy Melody, 65, of Dorchester. A federal postal inspector accuses the trio of using Melody’s identity to purchase homes in Brockton and Halifax. They were caught on Jan. 23, 2007, when they allegedly attempted to use the same scheme to sell Melody’s home. Lamerique is in custody awaiting trial, federal court papers show. Lassegue and Bonas are free on bail."
I find it odd when researchers claim that identity theft instances are decreasing. New trends like House Stealing are direct evidence otherwise. Identity criminals constantly change their tactics, which provides a challenge for researchers and government agencies to track the appropriate statistics to accurately measure identity theft instances. According to the Boston Herald:
"While the FBI does not maintain statistics for specific types of mortgage fraud, they know the crime of home theft is on the rise. In Fiscal 2007, financial institutions alerted law enforcement to 46,717 examples of mortgage fraud suspicious activity reports... Just a part of the way through Fiscal 2008, that figure has nearly reached the 30,000 mark."
Experts predict that mortgage fraud could increase to 60,000 in 2008. The FBI recommends the following to protect yourself from this new scam:
- If you receive a payment book or information from a mortgage company that’s not yours, whether your name is on the envelope or not, don’t just throw it away. Open it, figure out what it says, and follow up with the company that sent it.
- From time to time, it’s also a good idea to check all information pertaining to your house through your county’s deeds office. If you see any paperwork you don’t recognize or any signature that is not yours, look into it.
According to the FBI, this new scam is rare. Of course, contact your local police, the FBI, and file a complaint with the FTC if you have been victimized.