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Blog by Kevin Wong

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Title Office Swamped Over Fraud Concern

Renewed concern over an old mortgage fraud problem has been in the news lately and that attention has people flooding the title office with calls from homeowners.  Last Friday the Vancouver Sun reported the story of a Retired Richmond man who discovered his house had been sold without his knowledge and a large mortgage taken out on the home:

It’s all part of an elaborate scheme that has surfaced recently in B.C. in which con artists are attempting to sell homes without the owner’s knowledge, leaving the homeowner off the title but with hundreds of thousands in new mortgage debt against the property.

In the latest variation of the scheme in B.C., a would-be seller contacts a notary or lawyer to carry out the sale of a home.

A buyer, who is thought to be in on the deal, applies for a mortgage on the property and if the transfer is successfully carried out, the mortgage funds are paid to the seller. The buyer and seller disappear and so does the money, often leaving the homeowner to discover the ruse only when the bank notices the mortgage payments aren’t being made and comes looking for its money.

While such fraud is not new, title insurance company First Canadian Title said B.C. has seen a jump in suspicious cases this year. And a B.C. Supreme Court decision this month ruled that while a true owner could regain title to a property if it was fraudulently transferred, mortgages taken out on the property — even if fraudulently obtained — still stand.

Unfortunately the only way to discover that you are a victim of this sort of fraud is by checking records with the title office, which has set off this recent flood of calls:

“A lot of people have been wanting information, and the calls are backed up for at least a day,” Ian Smith, director of land titles for British Columbia and registrar in the Land Title and Survey Authority’s New Westminster land title office, said Wednesday. “We had 180 I believe yesterday, and that was just in the New Westminster office.”

Meanwhile, the authority launched an appeal to a recent B.C. Supreme Court decision that ruled that while a title that had been fraudulently transferred should be restored to the rightful owner, a mortgage then taken out against the property would stand. The ruling suggested that the owner of the property could seek compensation from the land title assurance fund.

If you are concerned about this sort of fraud and own your home outright there is a way to protect yourself:

Homeowners who are worried, though, can request a duplicate certificate of indefeasible title, which can only be issued for titles that have no financial charges against them, useful perhaps since the con artists target homes that are mortgage free. New Westminster real estate lawyer Alex Sweezey said strata owners also are not a target because on a condominium sale lawyers also have to deal with the strata management company.

The cost of the duplicate title is $50, but once it has been issued nothing can be registered against the title until it is surrendered to the land title authority. Smith said homeowners can get a form to request the duplicate from the land title office or from most lawyers or notaries. However, if it goes missing, replacing it can be costly and time-consuming, involving affidavits and other requirements.