KSL INVESTIGATES

Ads claim title thieves can steal your home, but can you really lose your house?

Jan 24, 2022, 10:39 PM | Updated: Jun 19, 2022, 10:01 pm

PROVO & SALT LAKE CITY — “You have the perfect storm for a cybercriminal to steal your home,” states an infomercial making a terrifying pitch for a subscription service that says it can shield your home from title theft. The ominous ad is spooking homeowners across Utah, telling viewers that bad guys can steal homes right out from under homeowners. But is it a service you really need to buy into? And how much of a threat is title theft?

The Home Title Lock infomercial sure got Dana Barney’s attention.

“It is scary. I wouldn’t want to lose my home that I’ve been paying on for however many years,” Barney said.

Homeowner Dana Barney tells KSL’s Matt Gephardt that while an ad touting a home title monitoring service seemed over-the-top, it did raise concerns.

The ad, hosted by former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, explains how cyber crooks can file a quitclaim deed to make your property theirs. And then quickly mortgage or sell your home, without you knowing about it until it’s too late.

“All I know is that innocent children are out in the streets,” said a woman identified as a victim in the ad.

But wait! Home Title Lock vows to prevent such a cruel fate for just $15. They will monitor your title, 24/7, and alert you if there is any funny business.

While Barney said she did not appreciate the scare tactics, they raised concerns.

“I watched it late at night and I couldn’t sleep,” she said. “Woke up early in the morning, like, I really need to go check on these things.”

That sense of panic did not just land on Dana’s doorstep in Utah County. The infomercial is spooking homeowners across the Wasatch Front, too.

“I’ve never seen a case of that happening,” said Nathan Darmiento, a land records specialist with the Salt Lake County Recorder’s Office.

Darmiento said he’s hearing from property owners shook up by that ad and others like it.

“Something like 15 people a week maybe, give or take. Sometimes it’s more,” he said of the frequency of inquiries he gets from concerned homeowners who have seen the ads.

Land records specialist Nathan Darmiento of the SLCO Recorder’s Office says ads warning of home title theft does spook constituents, but he explains it is very hard for a criminal to pull off.

Darmiento said he tells them title theft ain’t that easy.

“There’s a lot of things that have to go in place to file the deed,” he explained. “The state of Utah goes through a lot of verification processes, especially with the notary. A lot of notaries will have a commission number, and that’s the state holding them accountable.”

That is not to say title theft cannot happen.

“It can realistically be done,” said Jeff Lanza, former FBI agent who now advises people and businesses on how to stay safe from cyber crooks.

Lanza said the Home Title Lock ads do contain a grain of truth: someone with the know-how and perseverance can file paperwork electronically with a county to deed your home to him-or-herself. But unlike repeated claims of imminent danger in ads, he said title theft is not a common crime.

Home title theft occurs when the crook forges your name on a quitclaim deed, files it with the county and then takes out a loan against your home or tries to sell it.

“It requires again, a lot of knowledge and forgeries on the signatures of the people selling the house, forgeries of a notarization, and then the county has to basically overlook all that stuff.”

Even if a crook successfully forges a deed, it is still not valid. You still own your home. Possession cannot be conveyed to someone else. And if a buyer or a lender bypasses due diligence to rely on that forged deed — they are out of luck, not you.

“If that happens, it’s not going to fall back on the person that’s been victimized,” Lanza explained. “The people who lent the money are going to have the issue there because they didn’t do their due diligence in checking to make sure that the property was legitimately owned by the person getting the home equity loan, or any new buyer.”

Lanza added the 24/7 monitoring touted in the ads is not some magic access only the service has. It is not like they are staffed with clairvoyants able to warn you before a crook strikes. What they can do is check public records. That is something you can already do on your own — for the one-time, mind-boggling low price of free said Salt Lake County Recorder Rashelle Hobbs.

“We want to protect your property record,” she explained.

Her office offers Property Watch, an entirely free subscription service that alerts homeowners when something changes.

Salt Lake County Recorder Rashelle Hobbs explains to KSL’S Matt Gephardt that her office offers Property Watch, a free title monitoring service for property owners in the county.

“You are immediately notified if anything’s recorded on your property,” Hobbs explained.

Registering takes just a few minutes and it can be done over the phone.

Hobbs said her office has teamed up with other county recorders across Utah.

“Some of my fellow county recorders are already there, and some are in the process of getting there. We all see the importance of notifying property owners of your property record,” she said.

Washington County is already there, as is Uintah County.

Utah County doesn’t have a title monitoring service for Dana Barney to use. But she can check her title records online for anything fishy, for free.

“Why pay the $15 a month to some company that they really can’t guarantee that they actually can stop that recording or notify you the moment that recording happens?” Barney said.

We reached out to Home Title Lock, and they told us, yes, their service uses the same county records you can already access. They say the difference is their service can help provide legal help if a cybercrook files a quitclaim deed for your property.

In an email, a spokesperson wrote, “We provide resolution, the county will alert you, but you will need to figure out how to resolve the matter on your own. With our services, we provide financial guarantees of up to $1,000,000 depending on the subscription chosen.”

The $1,000,000 guarantee is available to customers who buy into the four-year subscription plan.

The thing is, the county recorder offices to whom we spoke say they haven’t seen or been told of a single case of this type of title theft happening in their counties — ever.

Jeff Lanza says when title theft does happen, it mostly happens to those who own their home free and clear of debt. It makes them an easier target.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

KSL Investigates

Americans are using their credit cards more often as the economy opens....
Matt Gephardt

Gephardt Busts Inflation: Utahns better than most Americans at keeping up with credit card debt

As if the higher prices were not bad enough, Americans now are putting more expenses on credit cards to make ends meet. The good news: Utahns are doing a better job than most at avoiding fees and dings.
1 day ago
...
Mike Headrick and Cindy St. Clair, KSL TV

Shattered glass. Holes in walls. South Jordan man sues city for wrecking his home

How important is a single signature on a legal document? A South Jordan homeowner claims the wrong signature ended with firefighters causing significant damage to his house.
2 days ago
Photo of phone with Facebook app...
Matt Gephardt

Get Gephardt: Facebook gives little to no help to users locked out by hackers

More and more, Get Gephardt is hearing from folks who have been locked out of their Facebook accounts by a hacker. Unable to get help from Facebook and desperate to get their identities back, they don’t know where else to turn.
3 days ago
...
Matt Gephardt and Cindy St. Clair, KSL TV

Get Gephardt: Husband sued for deceased wife’s unpaid medical bill

Just about a year after his wife died of cancer, Keith Zipprich said he was surprised when he, himself, was slapped with a lawsuit from a debt collector trying to collect on one of her unpaid medical bills.
4 days ago
Proch pirates and doorbell cameras...
Matt Gephardt & Sloan Schrage

Get Gephardt: Why you cannot rely on doorbell cameras to thwart porch pirates

Over a third of us have been hit by porch pirates in the past year according to a new study from ValuePenguin.com.
4 days ago
With only days to go before Christmas retailers are hoping consumers will shop generously. (Photo b...
Matt Gephardt and Sloan Schrage, KSL TV

Gephardt Busts Inflation: The tricks retailers will use to get us to open up our wallets

Of the thousands of Utahns who shopped for bargains on Black Friday, many likely bought a lot of stuff they really didn't plan to buy. And as KSL's Matt Gephardt explains, that's all by design.
5 days ago

Sponsored Articles

notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 reasons you may want to consider apartment life over owning a home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to choose what MBA program is right for you: Take this quiz before you apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t let a ransomware attack get you down | Protect your workplace today with cyber insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
Hand turning a thermostat knob to increase savings by decreasing energy consumption. Composite imag...
Lighting Design

5 Lighting Tips to Save Energy and Money in Your Home

Advances in lighting technology make it easier to use smart features to cut costs. Read for tips to save energy by using different lighting strategies in your home.
Ads claim title thieves can steal your home, but can you really lose your house?