I’ve been dealing with identity theft and I’m worried about my home. Can the thief sell my house without my consent?

No — but that doesn’t mean that they won’t try. March is Fraud Prevention Month, so let’s focus on a type of fraud that people don’t typically associate with real estate.

Identity theft occurs when a fraudster assumes a person’s identity, using both publicly available information and private information. Once the thief is able to claim the victim’s identity, they use it for financial gain.

And sometimes the repercussions can extend to real-estate assets, as well. Because real estate is so valuable, it can be a big target.

Once the fraudster has assumed the victim’s identity, they can then attempt to sell or remortgage the property without the owner’s knowledge. When they’re selling the property, the thief may even use the services of a real-estate professional and the property may be listed on Realtor.ca.
There won’t be a sign on the front lawn and prospective buyers can’t come in to view the property, but it’s not unheard of for a buyer to purchase a property unseen. Often, the rightful owner has no idea that this has happened until a mortgage lender comes looking for payment, or the new owner tries to move in.

The fraudulent sale can be reversed, but resolving it with the buyer will take time and money for legal fees. It’s an experience that can turn your life upside down and cause a great deal of stress. That’s why prevention is key. Here’s what you can do to protect yourself from identity fraud:

    • Review credit card, bank and other financial statements regularly to check for things that don’t look right.
    • Shred or destroy financial documents before you recycle them or throw them out.
    • Don’t give out personal information over the phone, email or online, unless you’re certain who you’re dealing with.
    • Verify the information in your credit report annually. Credit reports can be obtained from Equifax Canada or TransUnion Canada.
    • Pay attention to your billing cycles and contact service providers if your bills don’t arrive on time.

If you suspect that you or someone you know is a victim of real-estate fraud, you should report it to the police. If you suspect that a real-estate professional, lawyer or other type of professional is involved, you should also report it to their governing body. For lawyers, it’s the Law Society of Upper Canada and for real-estate professionals it’s us here at RECO. You should also report if somebody is falsely acting as a registered professional.

Telling authorities about the fraud can protect other potential victims and sometimes early reporting can even prevent a fraud in progress. A few years ago, a real-estate agent found out about an identity fraud situation involving a senior. The salesperson contacted RECO immediately and we were able to inform authorities to prevent the sale from going forward.

But it’s better to take steps — protect your personal information — to prevent fraud in the first place.

Joseph Richer is Registrar of the Real Estate Council of Ontario (RECO). He is in charge of the administration and enforcement of all rules that govern real estate professionals in Ontario. You can find more tips at reco.on.ca, follow on Twitter @RECOhelps or on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/RECOhelps.

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