Fraudsters are perpetrating property fraud and forgeries in real estate transactions at alarming rates throughout Florida and nearly every other state in the Union, all without notice by buyers and sellers of the property. Fraudsters commit property fraud by utilizing a forged deed, a forged mortgage, or otherwise manipulating property records and recording the forged document in the land records where the property is located.
How does someone commit Property Fraud?
The fraudster intends to create the appearance of selling or transferring the property. After updating the property records to show the fraudulent grantee as the owner, the fraudster proceeds to sell (or rent) the property to an innocent third party, all while keeping the real owner in the dark. Fraudsters can also use this method to attempt to mortgage (or “refinance”) the property and extract its equity. Notwithstanding that a forged deed does not actually convey legal title to the property, innocent third parties (such as potential buyers or tenants) believe the fraudster to be the actual owner. By the time the buyer or tenant discovers the fraud, the fraudster is long gone – with the buyer’s or tenant’s money likely in an offshore account.
Is my property really at risk?
Vacant properties, especially vacant land, properties with absentee landlords, and properties owned by individuals who have recently passed away, face the greatest risk. Property owners can take steps to deter fraudsters from “stealing” their property by subscribing to a new “Property Alert Service” made available by the various County Clerks of Florida.
How do I sign up for this service?
Go to the Florida Clerks website to sign up.
This service aids owners in becoming aware of possible fraudulent activities and taking pre-emptive action to avoid much bigger problems later. Although this service does not prevent fraudulent activity, it actively empowers real estate owners to take immediate action if they detect any suspicious activity, making the Property Alert Service a proactive approach.
Is there any cost associated with this service?
We strongly encourage property owners to actively register for this free service and proactively receive alerts for potential instances of property fraud. This includes early notification of possible fraudulent documents being recorded without your participation or consent, such as fraudulent mortgages or attempts at fraudulent title transfers. One of the keys to recovery of fraudulently obtained funds is the prompt reporting of instances of fraud to law enforcement agencies.
We here at Berlin Patten Ebling are providing this information to each buyer and seller we work with as part of our post-closing process. Should you have questions or concerns regarding this Property Alert Service or possible instances of forgery or fraud in real estate transactions, we urge you to contact or consult your local real estate attorney for additional guidance.