JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) -- A consumer watch for homeowners. What happens when you combine two popular rackets, identity theft and mortgage fraud? You get a totally new kind of crime: house stealing.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation says it's the latest scam on the block that could catch home owners off guard. Here's how it works, the con artists starts by picking out a house...let's say yours. Next, they assume your identity with info off the internet and with a few forged signatures and fake ID's, they file deeds to the proper authorities and now your house is theirs.
"Unfortunately, it's very simple," said Crye-Leike realtor Felicia Johnson, "A lot of mortgage instruments or instruments that have to do with the loan are public record and you can find those on the courthouse records, so it just takes someone with a little knowledge to go to the courthouse and find out who owns this piece of property and to be watching that home and be knowing that no one is there to be able to steal that identity."
The thieves often target vacant houses like vacation homes or rental property and then start doing their homework. And finding out who lives where is pretty easy.
BancorpSouth Community Bank President Joe Williams was able to find my information quickly.
"It's Heather Flanigan's house and I got it from public records in about a minute flat," said Williams, "It came from local sources so we can't assume that our information is protected. A lot of people can get access to that and we have to be careful."
There is another variation to this scam. Crooks will often prey on home owners having trouble paying their mortgage, offering to refinance their home but instead purchasing it under a false identity. The homeowner loses the title and the banks; they lose the money they loaned to fake buyers.
"These are very challenging times and if you are a homeowner who is facing a problem with your home mortgage, they are reaching out for any life line they can get. and unfortunately they may not know the people on the other end of that email or that letter and some of them are making some bad decisions and giving up some of that personal information to someone they don't know," said Williams.
"It's only a small percentage of us that are not honest but it's that small percentage is what is creating all the problems," said Johnson.
While house stealing is not too common at this point, the FBI says they are keeping an eye out for any major cases or developing trends. If you think you have been victimized, contact your local authorities.