Real-estate title fraud was one of 2023’s most-read stories

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In the spirit of looking back on 2023, CBC Toronto is revisiting some stories that captured our audience’s attention the most.

One of those, undoubtedly, was an inside look at real-estate title fraud — a bizarre practice where scammers steal a person’s identity to refinance or sell their home without the homeowner even knowing.

The practice first reared its head back in January, when Toronto police notified the public about a complex mortgage fraud investigation, where the homeowners left Canada for work and learned months later that their property had been sold.

According to police, a man and a woman used fake identification to pose as the homeowners. They then hired a realtor who listed the house for sale.

Later that month, CBC News reported on a similar instance, where a woman recounted how her great uncle moved into a long-term care home before running into what she called “the ultimate real estate nightmare.”

There, the family had learned that tenants who were going to rent the uncle’s house had used fake identity documents and bogus references on their lease application, before someone posed as the 95-year-old and attempted to sell the home without the family ever knowing.

Luckily, the family was able to put an end to the attempted scam before the house could be fraudulently sold.

It later turned out these were not one-off instances.

CBC Toronto learned that a handful of organized crime groups were behind frauds like these, in which at least 30 homes in the Greater Toronto Area were sold or mortgaged without the real owners’ knowledge. 

You can read an in-depth look at how this sort of crime can happen — involving stolen IDs and “stand-ins” posing as tenants and homeowners — right here. Police did make some arrests linked to cases like these this year.

So how can you protect yourself from falling prey to this sort of scam? CBC Toronto laid it out for you in this story — including getting title insurance and knowing who you’re dealing with.

Seeing as stealing a person’s identity is often the first step in title fraud, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre offers these tips for preventing identity theft:

  • Be wary of who you share personal information with.
  • Regularly check credit card reports, bank and credit card statements and report anything irregular.
  • Shred documents containing personal information before placing them in the garbage.
  • Limit mail theft by regularly retrieving mail.
  • Notify the post office, financial institutions and other service providers of your new address when you move.

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