The term “stealing home” is associated with baseball. It occurs when a runner is on third base and uses guile, speed and luck to make a dash for home plate to score a run. This usually happens when the runner takes advantage of the pitcher being distracted.
In the Elder Abuse Unit, however, my team has come to know the term in a different context. We have seen situations when a homeowner literally has had their residence stolen.
The first time I saw this happen was when I got a call from Mark (story real; names changed) about what his brother, Tony, had done to their mother, Alice. Tony asked if she could co-sign on a loan for him. Given that Tony seemed responsible and had a job, she agreed. The two of them went to an office downtown and Alice was presented with many papers to sign. She didn’t think any more about it, assuming that she would have heard if he defaulted on the loan.
Years later, when Mark and his mother began to plan her estate, they discovered that Alice was no longer the owner of her house. She had signed it over to Tony without realizing it. Tony even let his mother continue paying the mortgage as to not tip her off to what he had done. Tony committed the felony crime of Theft in the First Degree by Deception. Alice was in such shock over this betrayal of trust that she did not know what to do — and that is when Mark made the call to our office for help.
I wish I could say that Alice’s story is an anomaly, but I have seen houses being stolen by caregivers using powers of attorney and con men using illegal contracts that promise help with foreclosures and debt, only to instead transfer ownership to these charlatans.
I have seen families misuse monies from reverse mortgages and adult children draining bank accounts of home equity loans, leaving the parents to face financial uncertainty and foreclosure.
Your house is the single largest investment you’re likely to make. And the equity in your home (or your actual house itself) is very attractive to others who see it as “free money.” It’s like an amber light at night, attracting mosquitoes, but this time, the bloodsuckers could be family members, or “helpful” friends or even strangers.
When presented with any legal papers to sign, read them carefully or have someone else look them over. You may feel embarrassed asking to do this, but you will feel even more embarrassed if you lose your house. Also, tell your trusted family members and friends, and bring them along. Swindlers hate questions from protective loved ones. If these papers are so good for you, why keep this deal a secret?