Deed Fraud May Be on the Rise – Learn How to Spot if You’re a Victim of House Theft

Q. I have owned my home for 20 years and am well on my way to paying off my mortgage. I have enough money to make my monthly payments, buy groceries, pay utility bills, and save a little for retirement. The same was true for my neighbor, Sally, until her financial life was in ruins.

Sally was shocked when she received notices about failure to pay on a $300,000 loan on her property that she knew nothing about and another that her home was being foreclosed upon for failure to repay a $500,000 loan. The notices came from two different lenders that she did not recognize.

She frantically did some digging and discovered that her home was transferred by deed to another party and refinanced for $500,000 as a new primary loan and that there was also a second mortgage on her home for $300,000. She obtained copies of all the documents to see that her name was forged on the deed purporting to transfer title to a new owner. There was a notary stamp and notary signature on these documents, all from the same notary. She now has to hire an attorney to stop the foreclosure and get her house back. She’s hoping the criminal who did this will be caught and all will be made right, but it remains to be seen.

She is the first I’ve heard of such things happening, and frankly it’s scary. Has this type of thing happened to others in the DC area? What are some of the signs to look out for that deed theft has occurred and how can it be prevented? Thanks for your help!

A. Deed theft may be more common than you think, in many areas across the country, including the DC Metro area. Rohina Husseini, for example, is a wife and mother who has resided in Springfield, Virginia, with her family for nearly a decade. Similar to most of us, she gets a lot of junk mail and often doesn’t pay it any mind. Things seemed weird when in 2019 mail started coming to her home repeatedly addressed to another person.

“You bought a new house, congratulations,” read one of the letters addressed to the other person.

Husseini knew something wasn’t right. In the frantic hours that followed, she discovered that a total stranger was now, purportedly, in the county court records the legal owner of her brick rambler worth about $525,000! No new mortgages were taken on the property, but according to the deed recorded in Fairfax County land records bearing her forged signature, she no longer owned HER home! How could this happen?

Husseini Was the Victim of House Theft

Husseini was the victim of house theft, also called deed theft, a horrible crime that has seen an uptick in recent years. In deed theft, scammers pretend to own a piece of real estate and, typically using fraudulent identity information, forge the real owner’s name and signature on the deed to purportedly sell the home to an unwitting buyer.

Deed theft, which relies on identity theft, forgery, and sometimes weak oversight when it comes to deed transfers, wreaks havoc and has disastrous results. Unsuspecting homeowners can be foreclosed upon or even find strangers living in their unoccupied property or vacation home that has been purportedly sold out from under them. “Oftentimes, the [scammers] will offer a stolen home at an attractive price just below the market rate for an area so it is snapped up quickly,” said Cynthia Blair, the former president of the American Land Title Association. “They get a cash purchaser . . . and [the scammers] are off into the sunset with the money.”

Husseini’s Ordeal to Get Her House Back

Husseini’s ordeal began when her ex-boyfriend, Edress Hamid, walked into a Fairfax City law firm and passed himself off as Husseini, according to Fairfax County police and a lawsuit Husseini has filed. He told the attorney he was headed overseas as part of a military deployment and wanted to transfer control of his home to his wife.

A woman accompanied Hamid and introduced herself as Masooda Persia Hashimi, according to the lawsuit, which names Hamid and Hashimi as defendants. The lawsuit claims the attorney failed to check their identities, a basic step that could have potentially stopped the fraud from occurring, before transferring the title to Hashimi.

Hamid later presented the phony deed for recordation with Fairfax County land records office, making Hashimi, on paper, the official owner of Husseini’s home. In the weeks that followed, Husseini began receiving the odd junk mail that tipped her off.

Husseini said she immediately started researching what was going on after opening the piece of junk mail described earlier. She called the Fairfax County land records office, which told her that her name was not listed as the owner of her home. Increasingly worried, Husseini headed directly to the Fairfax County courthouse and demanded the actual deed. She read it with terror and confusion. It said she had deeded her property to Hashimi. She flipped the page and of course saw the forged signatures.

Husseini visited the law firm that had prepared the fraudulent deed, but she got few answers. She called her mortgage company, which told her they got no notice of the deed transfer. She finally concluded a scam had occurred.

Victory in Court, but Hamid and His Wife Have Still Not Been Found

Husseini took her case to the Fairfax County Circuit Court and eventually won in a default judgment on January 31, 2020, but only after significant legal fees and court wrangling. Here are the court documents if you want to examine them and some of what she had to go through, along with court records from a second case of deed fraud perpetrated by the same scammer.

How Common Is Deed Theft?

Fraudsters across the country have been scamming longtime homeowners by forging deeds in neighborhoods where housing values are rapidly increasing. The scam is also popular in markets where homes are unoccupied or there are large numbers of vacation homes, because they make easier targets.

The local story involving Rohina Husseini and the incident involving your friend, Sally, has happened many times across the country, committed by scammers, many of whom are never caught.

There are no national figures on house theft, but gentrifying cities such as New York and Philadelphia have reported increases in recent years and have enacted new safeguards, according to The Washington Post in a December 1, 2019, article by investigative reporter Justin Jouvenal.

Even if the lawful homeowner is able to recover the home, the victims will often be out thousands of dollars in legal expenses just to set things right.

As you can see from the Husseini situation, it is pretty simple to file a document with the County Clerk’s Office. You just walk in and hand the document to the clerk. This is usually done by messenger. The clerk stamps it with the date and time and instrument number and it is then recorded. There is no check by the clerk’s office on the authenticity of the document or the signatures, and the only notice is the mailing address on the document which need not be your address.

The FBI has reported approximately 9,600 such crimes from 2017 to 2020, a small amount compared to the number of homes owned in the US. According to the FBI, there is a significantly higher chance that deed fraud is committed by a family member or a caregiver than by a complete stranger.

How Can You Prevent Deed Fraud?

The following steps should be taken to help prevent deed fraud:

  • Check the county recorder often using the online records search tool to ensure there are no deeds or mortgages you don’t know about on your property. In Fairfax County, click here. In Spotsylvania County, click here. Most counties in Virginia charge a fee to be able to access land records online. In Washington, DC, click here. In Montgomery County, click here. In Anne Arundel County, click here. There is also a deed portal here for the entire state of Maryland.
  • If your property is not occupied, check often to ensure it is not occupied illegally. Ask someone you trust to look after your home if you are going to be away for an extended period.
  • Do not let mail pile up if you are going out of town.
  • Make sure the assessor and tax collector have your correct address for you to receive notices. Contact the assessor and tax collector if you suddenly stop receiving notices.
  • Report all suspected fraud to the police immediately.
  • Be vigilant. Deed fraud stemming from a deceased previous owner is a common scenario. Scammers regularly scan the obituaries looking for homes that are vulnerable to deed fraud.
  • Federal law provides you with the right to have a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Monitoring your credit report can help you discover financial actions taken by others in your name. You can get your free credit reports through
  • Owner’s title insurance can offer significant protection from the harm caused by deed fraud and can cover the costs involved in correcting the problem. Almost everyone who buys a home purchases owner’s title insurance, which covers you for the entire time you own the property, regardless of how many times you might refinance your mortgage. You pay a onetime premium at closing when you first purchase the property. Several weeks to several months after closing, you should receive the owner’s title insurance policy in the mail from the title company or settlement attorney who did the closing. Usually your original deed is attached to the owner’s title policy and most people keep these extremely important documents in a fire-resistant safe at home or in a bank safe-deposit box. Be sure you know where your owner’s title policy is and every time you purchase a new property, be sure to purchase owner’s title insurance.

“Property owners should be diligent and check on family members who can’t do their own checks, such as the elderly or those not occupying their houses for a period of time,” said Jonathan Stern, Police Second Lieutenant for County of Fairfax. “Have a good awareness of your property.”

For additional information about deed and title scams, and other common scams, please read my article on the subject here.

Planning to Protect Loved Ones

Protecting seniors from scams is very important, which is why we continually share information about current scams and how you can protect yourself. It is also very important to plan for your future and for your loved ones. If you have not done Incapacity Planning, Estate Planning, or Long-Term Care Planning, or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, please contact us to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

Northern Virginia Elder Law: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg, Elder Law: 540-479-1435
Rockville, MD Elder Law: 301-519-8041
Annapolis, MD Elder Law: 410-216-0703
Washington, DC Elder Law: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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