Securing Your Investment – Squatters Could Be Targeting Your Home’s Value

by Manuel McDonnell Smith

It’s every homeowner’s worst nightmare, having to confront a criminal taking items from inside your home. Keeping doors secure and investing in security systems helps to keep them out. But now, some thieves are looking to steal without even coming inside. Here’s how you can protect your deed from being stolen by clever thieves, or even by “squatters” looking to take over a residence you own while it’s in transition.

  • Be sure that your home does not give the appearance of being vacant. Use light timers and be sure that mail gets collected regularly and does not accumulate at your door. If you’re leaving your home for a period of time, have a trusted person keep an eye on your property.
  • Receiving a payment book or information from a mortgage company that’s not expected could be a sign that there’s trouble. Whether your name is on the envelope or not, don’t just throw it away. Open it up, figure out what it’s saying, where it’s coming from, and follow up with the company that sent it.
  • If you do not have it already, investigate the possibility of purchasing title insurance from a trusted professional and reputable agency. Most policies provide coverage against forgery, impersonation, and other problems that arise that might not be found in public records or are missed in the title search process.
  • Pennsylvania Law mandates the city’s Record’s Department to record all deed and mortgage documents that are filled out completely, even if the information that is provided later proves false. It’s good practice to check the status of your deeds with the City’s Records Department from time to time to ensure that any fraudulent transactions have not been recorded. They are located in room 154 of City Hall. You can also request records by mail or online if you cannot make it downtown, but there may be a fee charged for that service.

If you detect or suspect fraud, correcting the issue could be complicated. So many agencies, including the City, recommend obtaining the services of an experienced real estate lawyer as soon as possible. In addition to contacting police, you can also get additional assistance by calling the District Attorney’s Office at District Attorney’s Office at 215-686-9900 & city’s Consumer Affairs Unit in Room 167 at City Hall at 215-686-7598.

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