Protect Yourself From Property Deed Fraud

Protect Yourself From Property Deed Fraud

Deed fraud is a deceptive practice that involves fraudulently transferring property ownership and has emerged as a significant concern in Florida. Deed fraud occurs when criminals forge signatures, create fraudulent documents, or manipulate information to falsely transfer property ownership from rightful owners to themselves or unsuspecting third parties. Perpetrators frequently target properties that are vacant, owned by out-of-state residents, or have absentee owners. By filing fraudulent deeds with the county clerk’s office, the fraudsters can deceive title companies and gain access to the property’s equity, sell it, or obtain loans using the stolen title.

There has been a big spike in property deed fraud cases in Florida because the real estate market in the Sunshine State is hot. More than 54% of real estate professionals experienced it firsthand in just the second half of 2023. It happens when a scammer steals someone's identity and title, and then sells a property without the property owner's knowledge.

That's what happened to a man in North Florida: "I came from out of town and there was a business card stuck in the door, it was a detective from the Clay County Sheriff’s Office," John Roney said.

That's how John found out his nearly three-acre waterfront lot was almost sold for $40 thousand. The bank was just about to hand over the funds at closing when it noticed two things: an incorrect driver's license number and a misspelling of his last name on the property deed.

Clay County's Clerk of Court says Roney is lucky those mistakes were caught. "There are instances where, I can think of three, a person filed a fraudulent deed, and simply changed the name by one letter or changed some of the information in the address or in the text of the document by just one letter or two," Mary Justino with the Clerk of Court said.

Part of the problem is the switch to online. Out of the 65,000 records recorded by Clay County's Clerk of Court in 2023, 54,000 were done solely online.

How to Protect Yourself

You can protect yourself by signing up for your local county's property fraud alert program. It sends emails and texts if there's activity on property you own. It doesn't prevent fraud, but it's an early warning system. All of Florida's 67 counties have some sort of property fraud alert program.

To sign up for the property fraud alert program, go to the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers website.

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