Penobscot County homeowners now have the ability to track whether their property or someone else’s has changed hands without their knowledge, as part of an effort to fight title theft.
A new tool available through the Penobscot County Registry Deeds allows people to register for a consumer alert that would notify them if a property that belongs to them or a relative changes hands.
Title theft, or deed theft, happens when someone fraudulently puts a house or business deed in another person’s name, which is a crime. It could allow an imposter to sell that property without the legitimate owner’s knowledge.
There’s been just one documented case of title fraud in Penobscot County, according to Register of Deeds Susan Bulay. While unlikely, title theft represents a growing category of cybercrime nationally.
Bulay said she decided to set up the alert service after Penobscot County residents called her with questions about similar services that charge a fee.
The one known case of title fraud in Penobscot County involved an Orrington property in foreclosure, Bulay said. The fraudulent owner renovated the property and rented it out before police became involved, she said.
Property owners may visit the main page of PenobscotDeeds.com and click on the “Get Consumer Alerts” link at the bottom of the page to sign up for the service. It allows each registrant to track five names of individuals or businesses that own property in the county and the corresponding city or town for monitoring.
“If there’s any future land recording activity using one of those names in the specified communities, the registrant will be alerted by email,” Bulay said.
It’s still unlikely that property ownership can be easily transferred to a thief, Rick Kahler, president of Kahler Financial Group in Rapid City, South Dakota, told Forbes magazine last year.
“A would-be forger could easily get a blank deed form online and fill in your property’s legal description obtained from public records,” Kahler told the magazine. “However, the signature must be certified by a notary public, who is required by law to verify your identity.”
Even though title theft is unlikely in Penobscot County, Bulay said she hopes the service gives people concerned about title theft some peace of mind.