Identity theft is no longer about protecting your mail, credit cards and bank account. Bad actors evolved in their betrayal and moved on to property theft through title fraud. With a few forged documents, scammers can meet County Recorder requirements, altering title and effectively stealing property rights.
You may be wondering how this type of fraud was possible. Fraudsters create forged title deeds and file them with the county registrar’s office. Until recently, many of these crimes went undiscovered until the homeowner had a reason to check the title when refinancing or selling their home.
The District Attorney’s Office combats this type of fraud with a dedicated team of prosecutors and investigators who work in conjunction with the Assessor/Records Officer/County Clerk’s Office to bring fraudsters to justice. However, often the harm to the victims has already been done.
The San Diego County Assessor/Recorder/Clerk has launched a system that will protect property owners through a registration notification service, free to all members of the public. Consumers can register online to receive an email alert within 48 hours whenever a document is registered at a registered property. Owners can register up to five names and five Assessor Package Numbers (APNs). This service will allow consumers to get ahead of fraudsters before they have had a chance to cause actual damage to a property.
Until recently, there was no system in place to notify the rightful owner that the title had been stolen. This has given scammers valuable time to secure loans using the property as collateral or when the property is vacant, set up tenants and even sell the house to an unsuspecting buyer.
Consumers can register online by visiting the San Diego County Assessor/Recorder/County Clerk website at: https://arccprn.sandiegocounty.gov/ Here are some tips for avoiding title fraud:
- Sign up for the registration notification system
- Search the county’s official index for documents previously recorded under your name and ownership.
- Be careful with online signing apps such as Docusign – read the entire document to make sure it’s the correct contract and keep a copy of the signed version.
- If you have a vacant second home or home, check it regularly to make sure there are no squatters, unwanted tenants or fraudsters trying to occupy the home – it can be as simple as install an internet webcam at home.
- Make sure your property tax bill is paid on time and in your name.
- Make sure all your utilities are paid on time and are in your name.
- Continue to take steps to protect yourself against basic identity theft. If you believe you have been the victim of title fraud, report the incident to a local police department or request a real estate fraud complaint form from the San Diego District Attorney at [email protected] .
For more information, please visit our website at https://www.sdcda.org/preventing/real-estate-fraud/. As district attorney, I am committed to increasing communication and accessibility between the district attorney’s office and the public. I hope these safety tips for consumers and the public have been useful to you.