a person with handcuffs holding a sign that says fraud

The Silent Thief: Fraudulent Documents Can Steal Your Property

Don’t Let Your Home Be Next

Real property fraud is a serious crime that can have devastating consequences for the victim. It can involve the theft of a property, the loss of a home, or financial ruin. A common type of real property fraud is the filing of false documents.

In some cases, the fraudster may steal the identity of the property owner and use it to file false documents. In other cases, the fraudster may forge the signatures of the property owner or other authorized parties. Still other cases involve the use of fraudulent powers of attorney or other documents that give the fraudster the (false) authority to act on behalf of the property owner.

Dirty Deeds

Real property fraud may take the form of deed fraud. This occurs when the fraudster files a false deed in the official records of the county, purporting to claim ownership of a property that they do not really own. Once the deed is recorded, the fraudster will then seek to sell the property to an unsuspecting buyer, making off with the cash.

Another option for the scammer, once the property is fraudulently re-titled, is to commit mortgage fraud by using the real property as collateral for a mortgage loan. Once the loan funds are obtained the fraudster will then, of course, default on the loan, leading to the defrauded lender filing a foreclosure action against the victim’s property.

The homeowner would then have to go through a legal process to get the property back. And even if the victim is able to unwind the fraud, this can be a very long and expensive process. And because this fraud occurs after the homeowner purchases the property, title insurance does not provide any coverage for this.

The Silent Thief

This type of fraud can be very difficult to detect until it is too late. Even though these documents are public records, false documents can lie in wait for years. They can remain undetected until the victim tries to sell or refinance the property or, even worse, when the victim gets served with a foreclosure lawsuit.

Once the false documents have been recorded, they are considered to be public record. This means that anyone can access them, even if they are not involved in the real estate transaction. But this requires a homeowner to routinely check the public records. Would you know where and how to do this? And even if the homeowner knows where to look, it is not always easy to find these documents, and the false documents may be difficult to locate due to the inherently false information they contain.

Take steps to protect yourself.

Thankfully, a number of counties in the State of Florida support free property alert systems. The services do not prevent fraudulent documents from being recorded, but the “Property Alerts” will affirmatively notify you if and when certain documents are recorded against your property. This would allow you to take more timely action than if you discovered the issue much further down the road. Best of all, these services are completely free.

Click the buttons below to sign up for Property Alerts. We’ve included links to Manatee County and Sarasota County, where our office is located, but we’ve also linked to the statewide Clerks & Comptrollers website page that links to all of the counties in Florida that offer this service.

If you have been the victim of real property fraud, you should contact a real estate lawyer immediately, such as Board Certified real estate lawyer Joseph Battaglia. We would be happy to review your matter to see what options you may have.

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