This was something almost unheard of 10 years ago but it is unfortunately a reality today. Least you think that it only happens in Toronto and other areas of the country where real estate values are hot, think again.
The classic scam takes place when someone manages to mortgage your property without you knowing. The scheme works like this; someone assumes your identity and puts in an application for a mortgage with a financial institution (called "mortgagee") under your name. This involves getting some access to your credit information. According to the police and other agencies, this is not terribly hard to do. In fact, there have been breaches of one of the two credit reporting companies doing business in Canada, Equifax Canada and TransUnion.
Also, getting access to someone's credit information on line is possible if the scammer has some basic information which can be obtained from numerous sources, including a breach of your computer security, information offered by phone and etc.. At any rate, the unsuspecting mortgagee advances money to the identity thief and you do not find out until the mortgage goes into arrears. This is not easy in a rural type area like Norfolk County where lawyers, who do the re-financing, usually know the clients. However, many refinancing mortgages are done "in house" (by the financial institution).
A variation of this scheme happened in Brantford recently. What happened was that a person's credit information was breached and used to create a false identity. That in turn was used to buy and flip two properties in Brantford. The victim turned out to be a forensic accountant. She was alerted to the scam when the mortgage company contacted her about mortgage arrears on property she did not know she owned. She spent a lot of time putting the facts together for the police. Had she not had her background in forensics, I wonder how long it would take the average person to resolve this mess.
Mortgagees are reacting to this situation and are getting very strict with their instructions to lawyers in terms of verifying the identity of the persons who want to take out mortgage financing on a purchase or refinancing situation.
But what can you do? Don't respond with personal information to an e-mail request or phone call. Also, you should get a copy of your credit information. You can do this on line or by mailing in a request to Equifax or TransUnion. There is currently no charge to do this yearly (if the request is mailed). The forms and instructions are on line at http://www.equifax.com and http://www.tuc.ca If you notice something suspicious, including an enquiry from a financial institution that you have had no contact with, investigate further. If you notice something like this, you should ask the credit company to put a "fraud alert" on your credit file so hopefully, no further damage can be done while you look into it further.
Should you have any questions for Ask A Lawyer, please direct them to the Simcoe Reformer or ask a lawyer of your choice.