PARK CITY, Utah — There’s a new fraud on the block. Property fraud, also known as home title fraud, is the illegitimate sale of a home using a forged deed. Homeownership is then transferred without the legitimate homeowner knowing. Recently, in Utah and across the nation, scammers are executing this by listing and selling homes on Zillow, Craigslist, and other online sites.
The double-edged sword of the world wide web means the ease of listing not just homes but vacant lots online by homeowners and scammers.
“I hope this [scam] brings some awareness to people that they need to be good stewards of their own property,” said Summit County Recorder Rhonda Francis. “You need to be conscious of what’s going on. Check things, don’t wait till you get a tax notice; if you’ve moved, call us, let’s change your address.”
On Saturday, December 10, a woman alerted police that her property was falsely listed on Craigslist as available to rent monthly. The complainant said her house is for sale but not for rent. She found that somebody had recently paid a large sum of money to rent the home for a month. The woman was unsure who the person was who tried to rent the home or who the suspect was that posted the property for rent.
According to police logs, on the following day, December 11, a seasonal worker found a house for rent on Craigslist. The suspect and victim emailed regarding renting the house. $800 was sent to the suspect by Zelle at the suspect’s request. It was discovered the rental house was a scam, and the suspect stopped communication. This case is believed to be linked to the earlier case of reported fraud on Craigslist.
In response to the growing number of fraudulent house rentals and sales, Summit County created Fraud Guard. This online tool alerts participants if any documents are signed and submitted through the county under their name.
“You can sign up for if you’re a property owner… even if you’re not a property owner,” said Francis. “We don’t ask you to link it to your property; we just ask you to link it to your name. Anything that comes across our recording desk, if it has your name on it, you’ll be triggered with an email to find out what’s going on with your property or why your name is being brought through.”
Fraud Guard will not alter homeowners if their homes are listed on these websites, but if a ‘sale’ has occurred and title transfer paperwork have been filed, then participants will be alerted.
“We can’t check every single thing,” Francis said. “We don’t check signatures for individuals because we have to believe that the notary has done their job right. It’s all done electronically. The FBI is involved, our county police department, the title companies. It’s my office to an extent, but…if a document comes in that meets all the criteria, I’m required by law to record that. That’s where my hands are tied.”