Title fraud is a daunting problem for all stakeholders in real estate, and it's not just an Ontario problem; it affects the industry across Canada and the United States. Investigators at a conference in crime and prevention in Toronto in December called mortgage fraud an epidemic in the developed countries. The Ontario government has responded to increased conern and, in December, passed legislation that will strengthen protection against real estate fraud, with fines increased from $1,000 to a possible $50,000.
In the US, in the fall of 2004 the FBI warned that their open mortgage fraud investigations had increased five times in three years. They reported 533 open files and a single one of those files could be dealing with losses of over $100 Million. In 2005 the FBI reported 170 convictions with losses of over $1 billion.
These are big numbers, yes, but real estate transactions always involve huge sums, so why is this crime such a problem now? Kathleen Waters, LL.B., Vice-president of TitlePLUS, suggested real estate has become a commoditized business. "In the 1950s and 1960s it was quite common to know the client," she said. Clients lived in your community, or you knew of them or their family members. But with more transactions happening with clients that you don't know "that leads to the possibility that they may not be who they say they are", she said.
There is no absolute way home owners can protect themselves from title fraud, but there are some measures you can take to minimize the chances of a fraudster stealing the rug, and your home, out from under you.
* If you are renting property or leaving it vacant, be careful and watch those properties and the tenants.
* Be vigiliant; check your credit reports regularly. Questions any queires that you don't recognize.
* Title insurance give protection for past frauds and on a "go forward basis".
* Warn consumers about not becoming involved. They may not realize that they are being drawn into a crime.
Article taken from Ontario Real Estate Association Realtor Edge.