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A Guide to Title and Seller Fraud

Title fraud happens when a criminal forges signatures on a deed to transfer the title of a property. Buyers, sellers, and even property owners who have no intention of selling can be victims of this crime.

What is a Fraudulent Seller?

A fraudulent “seller” is a criminal who doesn’t really own a property and sells it to a buyer with forged documents. The buyer later learns they do not legally own the property. Unless a buyer purchases owner’s title insurance, the buyer could potentially lose all the money they paid at closing. 

How Does Seller Fraud Happen?

Criminals comb through online public records, and target land most often.

Sometimes they target homes with absentee owners like vacation homes or homes owned by a corporation or estate. The criminals generally prefer properties with no loan against them. The scammer poses as the property owner, asking a real estate agent to list the property. These criminals often communicate via email, text, and phone calls, never meeting the listing agent in person. 

The fraudulent seller claims they want a quick cash sale, and are willing to list below market value so it sells quickly. They also ask the closing attorney to do a “mail away closing” because they live out of state and can’t attend in person. This enables the criminal to falsify documents, including impersonating a notary. The unsuspecting buyer wires significant funds to buy with cash. Once that money has been wired to the fraudulent seller, the buyer’s money is gone, and the buyer doesn’t even own the property. 

How do you protect yourself against Seller Fraud?

As a buyer, make sure you work with a knowledgeable real estate professional and closing attorney. 

Buyers should especially watch out for land or homes for sale directly from the owner. Criminals know a fraudulent sale directly to a buyer is an easier target for them to commit seller fraud. 

Listing agents should verify the seller is the real owner, using multiple forms of identification, meeting in person, and asking questions. A legitimate seller knows more about the property than can be found in the public court records. 

Buyer agents should confirm the listing agent has done adequate research to verify a seller’s identity. Additionally, a buyer agent should recommend a trusted closing attorney with strong technology tools and safeguards in place.

What is a Fraudulent Buyer?

Another way criminals engage in home title fraud is posing as a buyer. The criminal steals a property right out from under the owner by filing a forged deed to transfer the property into their name. This happens when an owner doesn’t have their home or land for sale. 

After filing a fraudulent deed, the fake buyer applies for a loan to steal the real owner’s equity. Then the criminal “buyer” fails to make payments, exposing the actual owner to foreclosure and credit damage. Sometimes the criminal takes it a step further and tries to sell the house or land as a fraudulent owner. 

How To Protect Yourself From Title Fraud

When You Buy Real Estate

Choose a real estate brokerage and closing attorney who are experienced at watching out for the signs of potential fraud. The best attorneys invest in systems and safeguards to protect against fraudulent seller transactions. Buyers should purchase Owner’s Title Insurance on land and homes they purchase.

When You Own Real Estate

Use FANS – Filing Activity Notification Services 

FANS is like a digital watchdog for your property in Georgia. The system will instantly email or text you about any activity, like a deed change or refinance that is recorded against your title. This free service is at:

Watch Out For Signs of Home Title Theft

  • No longer receiving important mail or bills due to a fraudulent address change
  • Receiving mail, bills or collection notices for accounts you never opened
  • Having suspicious activity on your credit report like new accounts or changes to accounts

Protect your Credit with a Freeze

Consider a free credit freeze on all major credit bureaus:

Routinely Check Your Credit Report

Keep an eye on your credit report for anything unusual or unexpected. is approved as a free service by CFPB 

Work with Trusted Partners

Although title fraud is not as common as other types of identity fraud, the number of incidences of title fraud are increasing. Being aware of this growing problem is the first step to avoid being a victim. Working with someone you trust in real estate, and taking personal safeguards to protect yourself is key.

When it comes to buying or selling real estate in North Atlanta, you deserve better than an average agent. Seek a Strategic Guide from Path & Post! 

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