How Real Is Real Estate Identity Theft?
Dear Monty: I submitted a land combination form to the county government. I want to combine two adjoining parcels of land.
The municipality is now saying that “by law,” my wife and I must submit photocopies of our driver’s licenses. Is this a law?
I don’t mind showing my ID to prove who I am, but submitting copies of it, with all the identity theft going on, doesn’t sound wise.
What can I do to protect myself?
Monty: Each state regulates the creation or subdivision of land parcels. The state grants the counties within the state additional authority to manage the process and add local ordinances, rules, or codes within the county.
Every separate parcel or lot has a unique identification (ID) number. The ID number allows for the orderly distribution of property taxes, assessments, municipal improvements, and more.
ID numbers identify the boundaries when property ownership transfers to ensure clear title and prevent future ownership disputes.
An Inside Job
Identity theft is not easy to accomplish in real estate. Many agencies and businesses in the real estate industry commonly require a driver’s license or another form of photo identification. Many title companies will mail a confirmation letter if an owner lives out of state.
While stealing someone’s identity or falsifying a signature on a deed is rare, it does happen. When it does happen, it can involve a disgruntled or financially desperate family member.
Identity theft can also come from unscrupulous individuals associated with real estate as a livelihood:
– A real estate agent
– A title insurance company (often owned by attorneys)
– A mortgage lender or broker
The crime could go undetected for years, surfacing when the actual owner attempts to sell their property. The irony in your situation is that the municipality protects you from identity theft by asking for photo identification.
Steps to Consider
1) Consider not combining the parcels. Click here for a Dear Monty column that discusses the pros and cons of combining two adjoining parcels.
2) Visit the department you spoke to on the telephone in person. The purpose is to gather more information about what is involved, including inquiring about the written law.
Knowing they keep your driver’s license in a paper file rather than a digital one may be a relief. A paper file stored in a drawer with hundreds of others is likely less conspicuous than a searchable digital file.
3) Contact a local registered land surveyor. Depending on your municipality’s rules, you may be required to engage a surveyor to verify the boundaries of both parcels. A surveyor may also know if a law requires submitting a copy of your driver’s license.
Checking out the above suggestions will provide additional insights as to the advisability of combining the two lots and understanding the risks involved if you are still concerned about giving a copy of your driver’s license.
Also, remember there are millions of property transfers yearly in the United States. A real estate identity theft conviction is a felony in many states that comes with a hefty fine and an extended vacation behind bars.