Property fraud is a growing crime in Florida and elsewhere, the FBI reports. The crime is, essentially, “house stealing.”
Here’s how it works: A fraudster, using information about you gleaned from the internet or elsewhere, files a fraudulent deed or other document with the clerk or comptroller. Impersonating you as the owner, he/she will then rent your property, take out loans based on his “ownership” – and leave you facing a world of trouble. Victims may find themselves in debt, facing foreclosure, unable to refinance or sell the property, or even unable to pass on property to heirs. In 2018 it is estimated that 20,000 Americans were impacted by the crime, with losses of $1.3 billion.
This can happen because the clerk is under no obligation to check the actual legal authenticity of these filings. The clerk merely ensures that the proper administrative steps are followed and necessary fees paid. Therefore, unless you regularly check public records, a fraudulent filing can be made without you ever knowing it’s happened. Once you’ve been victimized, it can be very difficult to set things right.
Protect Yourself By Signing Up For Automatic Alerts
Fortunately, many Florida counties offer a “Property Fraud Alert” system to help homeowners stay on top of any attempts at fraud. Martin County just adopted the system. Whenever there has been a filing that relates to your property, you will get a notification from the clerk so you can take timely action and notify the proper authorities. It is a free service that you sign up for through your county clerk’s website. Experts suggest signing up using a variety of spellings, nicknames and so on. You can also sign up to get alerts for a loved one’s property. Sign up here: