PERSONAL FINANCE/JOHN NINFO: What to know about deed and title theft – MPNnow.com

Let’s start off by looking at that promised issue of real estate deed or home title theft, which is basically a form of identity theft.

According to quickenloans.com, home title theft, also known as deed theft, is the process of fraudulently putting a house deed in another person’s name. A thief steals your identity, then the thief uses it to forge a deed, making it look like they are the property owner.

How can it occur? Here are several ways it lists:

1. The thief can refinance the mortgage on the property, cashing out the equity and not paying the mortgage, resulting in possible foreclosure.

2. The thief can take out a home equity line of credit (HELOC), again taking out the equity and not making the payments.

3. The thief can target an unoccupied property, like a vacation home, rental property or abandoned property, and use a forged deed to sell the property.

4. The thief can con seniors or homeowners in crisis with an offer of refinancing, but the transaction is documented as a property sale.

From my perspective, the bottom line is that these transactions involve forgery, which is a crime, and these sales, mortgages and lines of credit are legally ineffective. Nevertheless, and unfortunately, like any identity theft, it can take time, money and frustration to unwind these transactions. It is also clear that if you are a senior with a lot of equity in your property, or the property is a vacation or rental property, it is important to be vigilant. Two easy things that you can and should do are to stay on top of all the bills associated with the property, real estate tax bill, utility bills, etc., looking for any irregularities. Also, make sure that you check your three credit reports every year. They would show any fraudulent real estate transactions, including mortgages. Remember that they are free on the government site annualcreditreport.com.

If you want to be even more diligent, you can periodically check the real property records in the county where your real estate is located, either in person or online, sometimes with a small fee. You can also pay one of the protection services that we are hearing and seeing more commercials for, to do this for you. If you go that route, know exactly what it is that they will do for you, and the costs.

In the end, notaries, real property transactions recorders in New York and other states, and banks are our lines of defense, along with our personal vigilance.

Finally, what do you do if you have been the victim of this form of identity theft? According to deeds.com, first contact local law enforcement where you live, and where the property is, if it is in a different location. Be persistent in requiring an immediate investigation, and even consider contacting the FBI. Second, gather all your relevant valid documents in connection with the property. Hopefully, you have maintained a dedicated file for the property. Third, contact the recorder of deeds where the property is located, as well as any valid mortgage or lien holders, who might have processes and procedures in place to address this problem in a timely manner. Last, contact a real estate attorney to initiate any required legal proceedings.

In the last column we promised that with the reopening, with some restrictions, of wedding venues in New York State, we would revisit some financial advice for newlyweds. First, on a somewhat related matter from a bankrate.com survey, 51% of millennials (ages 25- 40) admit that they have committed financial infidelity with their partner, and more that 1 in 4 adults believe that financial infidelity is worse than physical cheating (OK, that one surprised me). Financial insecurity includes, “I have a secret debt, a secret savings account, a secret checking account or a secret credit card, as well as I have spent more money than my partner would be ok with”.

For me the best thing that newlyweds can do is to take some of the money they received or budgeted for the wedding, and have a session with a fee-based financial planner to start developing a short- and long-term financial plan as a couple. Not having these financial plans is a mistake that you cannot afford.

Let’s turn now to some additional mistakes you don’t want to make as a newlywed from balance.com.,

1. Walking in Blind

After the engagement, if they haven’t already, couples should have a frank discussion that covers each person’s current income, savings, and debt, as well as any delinquent debts, bankruptcies, or other financial obligations.

2. Lying to Your Spouse

It is critical that each person be open about their finances and any habits that might affect the marriage financially, such as a gambling or shopping problem. As I have always said, don’t hide the ball that your spouse may find in the closet after the marriage. It will result in resentment.

In the next column we will look at some additional mistakes that newlyweds should avoid, as well as other advice.

As I write this column, Congress is still working on an additional Covid relief/stimulus bill. I find it interesting that a part of the current discussions are finally about more targeted stimulus payments, in order to ensure that only those who really need the help receive it. Even our new Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellin, has spoken about the need to look more carefully at this issue, one that we have focused upon in a past column. In that regard, I recently heard a man call into a radio show about food insecurity. He said that he and his wife had received prior stimulus checks, but really didn’t need the money, so they gave the money to a local food bank. He also said that the government may not know how to spend our money, but we do. I LOVE THAT, not just because I have suggested it.

John Ninfo is a retired bankruptcy judge and the founder of the National CARE Financial Literacy Program. Find his previous weekly columns at http://www.mpnnow.com/search?text=Ninfo.

John Ninfo

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