Florida Property Title Fraud is a Problem. Here’s a Way to Protect Yourself.

Florida Property Title Fraud is a Problem. Here’s a Way to Protect Yourself.

Identity thieves can get control of properties, making the legitimate owners’ lives miserable.

Property title fraud is a major issue around the state of Florida, as fraudsters use identity theft to assume the identities of owners on properties they don’t actually own.

Here’s what happens in one scenario: A fraudster assumes the identity of a property owner, then files a quit claim deed on the property that appears to convey ownership to an identity or entity controlled by the fraudster.

If the deed on its face appears to be in order, the County Clerk will record it in the property records. Once the deed is filed, the fraudster can then act as the property owner, potentially selling the property or in many cases, getting money by using the property as collateral on a loan.

This could cost the actual property owner thousands of dollars and countless hours of time to fix, because getting a fraudulent title transaction off the property records is neither simple nor easy.

In fact, it can involve everything from filing a police report and hiring a lawyer, to working with the property appraiser’s office and filing a so-called “quiet title” lawsuit.

In any event, it is unlikely that your lawyer will be able to track down the fraudsters, much less get money back from them.

In response to this issue, counties around the Tampa Bay area have launched programs to alert property owners if a title transfer process has begun involving their property, so owners can flag a transaction if it isn’t a deal they initiated.

Registering for the programs is free, but if owners don’t know to sign up, they have no way of knowing if someone is fraudulently transferring their property.

House Bill 289 (and companion Senate Bill 526), now under consideration in Tallahassee, could be of some help. The bills would establish a pilot program in Broward County in which Realtors, title agents, and attorneys would alert the Broward property appraiser if a transaction is underway in that county. Under the program, the Broward property appraiser would then send an alert to owners who’ve registered for their county’s alert program as a second way to flag the transaction.

But while this pilot program certainly could be useful, it won’t help property owners who haven’t signed up for their county’s alert service.

With all this in mind, here are some tips for property owners:

— Sign up for your county’s alert service, which will flag any title transaction in process that involves your property. This will give you notice to immediately follow up on a fraudulent transfer, before the fraudster attempts to sell or mortgage the property.

To sign up, visit your County Clerk’s website, or search online for your county’s name with the term “title fraud alert service.” (Among the counties where a service is available are Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando, Manatee and Citrus.)

— Encourage your state legislators to pass House Bill 289 and Senate Bill 526. Any pilot programs like the one suggested for Broward can help government officials figure out how to better protect property owners. While the bill under consideration is not the magic solution, this program can help lead to answers.

Local government agencies don’t have the manpower to closely check title transactions for possible fraud. Until more budget money is allocated to addressing the problem at the county level, it is up to property owners to be vigilant about the status of their properties.

Unfortunately, this problem may only get worse, as fraudsters become more and more sophisticated in how they pull off identity theft. But by signing up for a title alert, and by encouraging your legislators to pay attention to this issue, solutions are possible.

-Larry Silvestri, Silvestri Law


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“CCIM stands for Certified Commercial Investment Member. For more than 50 years, CCIMs have been recognized as leading experts in commercial investment real estate. The CCIM lapel pin denotes that the wearer has completed advanced coursework in financial and market analysis, and demonstrated extensive experience in the commercial real estate industry.”


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