Scammers Target New Homeowners

After moving into a new home, you will probably receive a number of "welcome to the neighborhood" offers, many of them advertising services and local businesses. But a number of those letters will be for no purpose other than to separate you from your hard-earned money.

When you buy a new home or take out a new mortgage, the deed and the mortgage documents will be filed and recorded with your county's register of deeds, county recorder, or, in Texas, county clerk. The purpose is to put creditors and potential buyers on notice as to who owns an interest in your property. However, some unscrupulous businesses search these records in order to target new homeowners.

Many of these letters will say "IMPORTANT MORTGAGE INFORMATION", and the address window will include your mortgage lender's name. Inside will be a letter urging you to complete and return a form-it may even say "return promptly"-with some language vaguely warning of dire consequences if you don't. The contents will look very official, and may include specific details of your home such as the square footage and sale price. Don't be fooled, however-this letter is not from your mortgage lender, but instead from a scam artist who found this information in your county's real property records. It is likely an attempt either to sell you an overpriced and unnecessary product like "mortgage protection insurance" (it states that it will pay off your mortgage if you die or become disabled-something that can be accomplished much less expensively though traditional term life insurance and long-term disability insurance) or they are simply trying to steal your personal information.

Another, even more outrageous scam will include an ominous and official-looking warning on the envelope of a fine or imprisonment for interfering with the delivery of the letter (which is true, but no different than any other letter delivered by the U.S. Postal Service). Inside will be a "RECORDED DEED NOTICE" describing why you need to pay them $80 or more to obtain your "Current Grant Deed" in order to "provide legal evidence of ownership" and "show evidence of [the] subject property's legal description." It will also offer a "Property Assessment Profile" which includes things like "County Tax & Assessment Information" and "Flood Report." Of course, the "Current Grant Deed" is just the deed to your property, which you can obtain from your county clerk's office for a dollar per page, or probably for free from your title insurance company. The "Property Assessment Profile" includes information that is available to anyone for free online from their local appraisal district records or, in the case of the "Flood Report," from FEMA.

Don't be fooled by these scams. If someone is dishonest enough to send you a letter hoping you'll think it comes from the government or your mortgage company, then that person is probably not someone to trust with your money or your personal information.

If you or someone you know has been the victim of fraud, contact an attorney at Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Friend by calling 713-222-7211 or 1-800-870-9584.

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