Ads for Home Title Lock feature a former FBI agent, convicted felon, or prominent politician warning about “a serious cyberthreat and growing problem” called “home title theft.”

The company’s messaging is quite alarming. For example, in one ad it says:

“Criminals can easily access your home’s ownership records, illegally transfer your home title into their name, then take out fraudulent loans against your equity, and even try to sell your home right out from under you. All without you even knowing.”

In another ad, company pitchman (and former House Speaker) Newt Gingrich warns: “If you don’t check your home title every 24 hours, that’s all the time criminals need to steal it.”

Ira Rheingold, executive director of the National Association of Consumer Advocates (NACA), told Consumers’ Checkbook that title monitoring is “a product in search of a problem to solve.” He described Home Title Lock’s advertising as “misleading and fraudulent,” and blasted the company for using “scare tactics” to exploit vulnerable people.

Other companies offer similar products. LifeLock now sells its “Home Title Protect” for $100 per year; Identity Guard has “home title monitoring” as a feature with its “Ultra” plan, which costs $18 a month; Deed Shield sells its standalone policy for $10 a month.

These companies overstate how often title fraud occurs, how easy it is to pull off, and the actual harm to victims. And they vastly overpromise how much protection their products provide.

What Is Title Theft? How Common Is It?

When a property changes ownership, a deed is filed with the county or city where it is located. Fraud might occur if a criminal can forge that paperwork and then use the home as collateral to apply for loans. When the forger doesn’t make payments on the debt, the lender might come after the actual homeowner, threatening foreclosure.

In a worst-case scenario, a crook sells a property for which they’ve forged paperwork, forcing the rightful owner to go to court to keep their house.

Home Title Lock claims that this type of fraud is widespread. “If [title theft] does happen, it’s going to be a nightmare, legal and emotional, that’ll last for years and be expensive on top of all that,” Art Pfizenmayer, a retired FBI agent who is now a senior advisor and spokesperson for Home Title Lock, told Consumers’ Checkbook. “It’s a lot more prevalent than people think, and it’s way more prevalent than the statistics will actually show.”

But when Checkbook asked Pfizenmayer how many title lock scams his company had prevented, he couldn’t say.

Our research also couldn’t determine how often title scams occur. But we found it’s quite uncommon—definitely not a nationwide crime spree “exploding across America,” as portrayed by title monitoring services.

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Scare Tactics and Misleading Marketing

Some of Home Title Lock’s ads display a warning, attributed to the FBI, that says home title theft is “one of the fastest growing white-collar cyber crimes in America.”

But the FBI—which doesn’t even collect data on home title fraud—has never issued any such public warnings.

When we asked the FBI for info on Home Title Lock’s claim, an FBI public affairs officer told Checkbook that “we cannot find any source for that quote.”

Home Title Lock’s Pfizenmayer couldn’t provide documentation for the quote. “I do not pretend to know who or what or where in the FBI, or elsewhere, someone made or issued those words, if at all,” he told Checkbook.

Deed Shield’s website similarly declares that the “FBI regularly warns of house stealing, deed and mortgage fraud, resulting in the loss of equity or home title. The threat is real, and every homeowner should take steps to protect their home.”

Any complaints about home title theft would be categorized by the FBI as “real estate fraud.” In 2022, it received 11,727 reports of that type, according to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. But there’s no way to determine how many of those cases involved home title fraud.

By comparison, in 2022 the FBI received 32,538 reports about tech support scams, and over 300,000 dealing with email phishing attacks.

“Home title identity theft does occur, but it’s not that common, and it’s not the biggest threat our identities face,” said Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the nonprofit Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC).

Dishonest Testimonials

In some of its ads, infomercials, and social media posts, Home Title Lock features “victims” who share compelling title-theft horror stories.

An ABC News investigation in 2022 questioned the veracity of two alleged victims: “Jeff” in Texas and “Debra” in Florida.

Jeff said he was “devastated” when criminals stole his property, a ranch with a big stone house. But when ABC News reporters examined court documents, they found that Jeff McFatridge lost his home in foreclosure, after not paying his mortgage for three years.

Debra claimed she and her children were evicted from their home after “thieves” used “fraudulent papers” to steal it and resell it online “without their permission.”

But according to court documents examined by ABC News, Debra Savoie-Glass’ house was sold by her daughter to an online real estate broker—with her mother’s “permission” and “full power of attorney”—after the house was deemed “uninhabitable.”

ABC News reported that a week after it notified Home Title Lock about these dubious testimonials, the company removed nearly all references to them from its website.

It’s interesting that to illustrate the need for its services Home Title Lock had to rely on testimonials from two people who weren’t even victims of title theft. If this type of fraud is widespread, as Home Title Lock warns, then it should have been easy for the company to find real victims.

Law enforcement agencies in California and Texas are looking into Home Title Lock’s advertising to determine if it is illegal.

In January 2023, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton launched an investigation into possible violations of the state’s Deceptive Trade Practices Act by “misleading consumers with deceptive statements concerning the prevalence of home title theft and the need for Home Title Lock’s services.” The investigation is ongoing.

When city attorneys in San Francisco and San Diego subpoenaed corporate information in April 2023, they accused Home Title Lock of using “deceptive advertising” and “alarmist statements” to convince homeowners to purchase its “unnecessary” home title monitoring service.

“Home Title Lock is a scam, plain and simple,” said San Francisco City Attorney David Chiu. He criticized the company for creating a “manufactured” crisis, designed to “stir up fear.”

San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott said, “Home Title Lock targets and preys upon elderly Californians whose homes are their chief source of financial security.” The company’s “conduct is not just illegal; it’s unconscionable and cruel,” Elliott said.

Contrary to the ads, title theft is “rare and likely to be quickly discovered,” the two prosecutors noted, and in California, it’s “impossible because a fraudulently recorded title is void.”

Home Title Lock told Checkbook it is cooperating with these investigations. But, at least for now, its website and advertising continue to include references to FBI warnings that were never made and testimonials from experts that mislead about the risk of title theft.

What Do These Companies Really Do? Not Much

Home Title Lock’s website offers its “TripleLock Protection” for three rates: $19.95 per month or $199 a year, and $796 for a four-year deal with “locked in pricing.”

What do you get?

Home Title Lock and similar services do not lock anything. They cannot stop criminals from accessing your deed (which is a public document) and cannot prevent title fraud.

Instead, these companies offer only monitoring services, similar to credit monitoring, that alert customers if they get notified about any changes to deeds they track. Home Title Lock also advertises that it has a “restoration team” to help victims restore their titles.

Home Title Lock is “not preventing anything from happening,” and it’s “not doing anything about it except to alert you that [something] has happened,” said Holden Lewis, a mortgage expert and spokesperson for NerdWallet.

“It’s clear that alerting you is where their responsibility pretty much ends,” Lewis told Checkbook. “They’re not going to represent you in court. They say that they will support you when you contact an attorney, but what does that mean exactly?”

How to Actually Protect Yourself

You can check your title for free in person, or online in most places, by contacting the government office that handles land records in your jurisdiction—typically a recorder’s or clerk’s office. Look for any changes that don’t seem right, including any liens that may have been placed on your property.

Hundreds of county clerk’s offices across the country now offer free fraud-alert services—signup is voluntary—that notify deedholders when changes are made to their documents.

In October 2022, San Diego became the first county in California to offer a free notification service called “Owner Alert.” So far, more than 44,000 people have signed up; they receive an email any time a document is recorded with the county transferring title to their property.

“This is empowering folks to make sure that they know exactly what’s happening with their greatest investments,” said Jordan Marks, San Diego County’s assessor/recorder/county clerk. “You can watch out for your senior parents, or you can watch out for your kids.”

Last year, lawmakers in Florida and Arizona decided that all counties in their states should offer these title-alert programs. In Florida, 65 out of 67 counties have the system in place. The deadline for implementation in Arizona is January 1, 2025, but systems are already active in Maricopa, Pinal, and Yavapai counties.

Unfortunately, there is no complete listing of jurisdictions offering title-alert services. Fidlar Technologies, which specializes in managing land records, has built a tool called Property Fraud Alert, which it has licensed to hundreds of local governments in 20 states. Its interactive map reports which land records offices subscribe; if yours isn’t listed, call it to see if it offers a similar alert service.

Warning signs of possible title fraud include unexpected changes to your mortgage statements or property tax bills, notices of liens or judgements, a halt in your mail, or difficulty accessing your mortgage or property tax accounts.

According to Elizabeth Blosser, vice president of government affairs for the American Land Title Association (ALTA), the biggest threat for title fraud involves scammers who try to sell properties that aren’t owner-occupied, such as “vacant land, or a vacation home, or rental property, something of that nature.”

While it makes sense to remain vigilant and take some precautions, remember that this is a rare crime and that the industry is aware of the threat and focused on spotting bogus paperwork and other signs of title fraud.

If you think you’ve been the victim of title fraud, act quickly to reduce the potential monetary damage. Contact local law enforcement and your local recorder’s office. File a complaint with your state’s office of the attorney general, and report it to the state police or bureau of investigation. You may also want to reach out to your title company, and contact an attorney.

Contributing editor Herb Weisbaum (“The ConsumerMan”) is an Emmy award-winning broadcaster and one of America's top consumer experts. He has been protecting consumers for more than 40 years, having covered the consumer beat for CBS News, The Today Show, and You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and at