Across the country, Canadians are moving out of cities in droves to stretch their legs and call a larger plot of land home. For those embracing the work-from-home lifestyle, they no longer need to live near metro-area offices in expensive shoebox apartments and condos. According to Statistics Canada, 50,000 people moved out of Toronto and nearly 25,000 people migrated from Montréal to suburban areas from July 2019 to July 2020.
The increased demand for suburban housing is making the Canadian real estate market a mad dash for limited supply. Additionally, some families who are out of work are struggling to keep their homes and are resorting to unsafe measures to keep a roof over their heads.
Leave it to scammers and identity thieves to pounce on a vulnerable situation. Scammers and identity thieves are increasingly taking advantage of unsuspecting homeowners, and in some cases, selling homes without the rightful owners even realizing it.
Be on the lookout for these three Canadian real estate scams.
1. Loan Fraud
Foreclosure occurs when a homeowner can no longer afford to pay their mortgage, so the lending institution takes over homeownership with the right to sell it. When homeowners are facing the prospect of having to move out, they may seek dubious loans to help them bridge the gap. Loan fraud is when a scammer pretends to extend a gracious loan. In exchange for the loan, the scammer may ask for the title of the home. With the title in hand, the thief may stop sending loan payments to the homeowner and instead resell or remortgage the property.
Not being able to make mortgage payments is a desperate situation, which causes struggling homeowners to make dramatic decisions. Before agreeing to any type of loan, homeowners must ask themselves if the terms of the loan are too good to be true. In cases of fake loans, they often advertise an incredibly low-interest rate. It is best to trust your financial matters to accredited institutions.
2. Title Fraud
Title fraud is when someone steals the title of the home, usually by impersonating the homeowner. Once they have the title, the thief may attempt to sell the home or apply for a mortgage against it. In March 2021, the Times Colonist reported that a thief impersonated a British Columbian homeowner in order to transfer the home’s title to someone else’s name. Then, the thief tried to sell the home behind the rightful homeowner’s back. It was only when a neighbor alerted the real homeowner about the for-sale sign that they realized that their home could have been sold without their permission.
The best way to defend against title fraud is to keep your personal information as private as possible. Title fraud is closely related to identity theft, and fraudsters may gain access to your personal information through phishing methods. Phishing is a tactic where cybercriminals trick people into giving up personal details, including full names, birthdays, and financial information. Statistics Canada calculates that 34% of Canadians have experienced a phishing attempt since the beginning of the pandemic. This statistic emphasizes the importance of constant vigilance concerning your most sensitive personal information.
3. Mortgage Fraud
Mortgage fraud is a term that can apply to untruthful lenders who attempt to swindle cash from unsuspecting buyers or pitch mortgage terms that fall outside of the buyer’s means. The Financial Services Commission of Ontario lists several warning signs of mortgage fraud. For example, lenders who do not have your best interests in mind may ask for cash fees and upfront payments.
Again, it is best to only trust accredited financial institutions with your mortgages and loans. Research the institution before signing any contract. If the mortgage terms are too good to be true, it probably is. There are several online mortgage calculators that can give you an idea of the type of mortgage you can afford. Before entering any talks with a lender, conduct some research beforehand so you can spot unreasonable terms.
Also, an unscrupulous lender may try to hurry you along but also take a long time responding to your calls and emails. If you feel pressured or unsure at any point, remember that there are plenty of fish in the sea. Ask your friends or family for lender recommendations to make sure that you are not tricked into mortgage fraud, the consequences of which could follow you for years.
How to Protect Your Real Estate Investments
- Invest in title insurance. To protect yourself from fraud involving the title of your house, consider investing in title insurance. Title insurance usually protects homeowners from the transgressions of past owners, but it also protects against fraud.
- Don’t fall for phishing. If you receive a suspicious message that asks for personal details, there are a few ways to determine if it was sent by a phisher aiming to steal your identity. Before clicking on any links, hover over it with your cursor to reveal the full website. If there are typos in the URL or it redirects to anyplace other than where it advertises, do not click on it. Also, phishers often send messages with a tone of urgency, and they try to inspire extreme emotions such as excitement or fear. If an unsolicited email urges you to “act fast!” slow down and evaluate the situation.
- Remain calm. Staying cool under pressure is easier said than done concerning matters about your home. Down-on-their-luck homeowners can be too quick to jump at too-good-to-be-true loan offers that turn out to be scams. There is often a time crunch in making mortgage payments, but take your time to review contracts and research the lender to make sure that your home and finances are in competent hands.
- Report scams. To prevent others from enduring the same headache and uncertainty of real estate scams, you can report suspicious messages and instances of fraud and other cybercrimes to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
- Sign up for an identity theft alert service. An identity theft alert service warns you about suspicious activity surrounding your personal information, allowing you to jump to action before irreparable damage is done. McAfee Total Protection not only keeps your devices safe from viruses but gives you the added peace of mind that your identity is secure, as well.
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