There are many different types of real estate fraud, but one that is particularly worrisome for Canadian seniors who are homeowners, is title fraud.

What is title fraud?

Title fraud occurs when a fraudster assumes the identity of an individual homeowner and then uses that false identity to pose as the homeowner. They could then assume the title on the home, sell the property or obtain a mortgage on that property or other properties in the homeowner’s name.

What is my bank doing to protect me from real estate fraud?

The banks work constantly to protect you from fraud. All banks have fraud and security teams working around the clock to ensure that security measures are constantly being enhanced, technology is being upgraded, and that the banking industry assists police in investigations to help catch the criminals and put them behind bars.

In addition, the banks and the Canadian Bankers Association are involved in real estate fraud task forces across the country. These task forces bring together lenders, police, government, real estate groups, the legal profession and other groups to look closely at real estate fraud to determine what changes can be made, individually and collectively, to prevent fraud and protect Canadians. This work is ongoing but, to date, significant changes have been made to directly prevent some instances of real estate fraud from occurring.

How do I protect myself from becoming a victim of title fraud?

Protect your personal information from identity thieves:

  • Do not give out personal information on the phone, through mail or over the Internet unless you have initiated the contact or know with whom you're dealing.
  • If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is — before you reveal any personal information, find out how it will be used and if it will be shared.
  • Pay attention to your billing cycles. Follow up with creditors if your bills don't arrive on time.
  • Guard your mail. Deposit outgoing mail in post office collection boxes or at your local post office. Promptly remove mail from your mailbox after delivery. Ensure mail is forwarded or re-routed if you move or change your mailing address.
  • Minimize the identification information and number of cards you carry.
  • Keep items with personal information in a safe place. An identity thief will pick through your garbage or recycling bins. Be sure to tear or shred receipts, copies of credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements and credit offers you get in the mail.
  • Give your Social Insurance Number (SIN) only when absolutely necessary. Ask to use other types of identification when possible.
  • Don't carry your SIN card; leave it in a secure place.
  • Check your credit report regularly to ensure there are no discrepancies.
  • Reviewing your credit report can help you find out if someone has opened unauthorized financial accounts in your name. There are two credit reporting agencies in Canada: Equifax Canada and TransUnion Canada. You can request free copies of your credit report from credit reporting agencies by mail. Online versions of reports are also available for a small fee.
  • You can also conduct a property search at your province land registry office to ensure that the title to your home is in your name.

The Financial Consumer Agency of Canada also has good information on how to protect against title fraud.