Attorney Brendan A. Sweeney Of Sweeney Law, P.A. Featured In The July 2023 Edition Of The Broward County Bar Barrister – Deed Fraud, Broward County Will be Losing Its Place as the Deed & Title Fraud Capital of the Country.
Broward County is Florida’s second largest county with a population just under two million people and is considered a world class travel destination and an amazing place to live. Property values in south Florida and particularly Broward County have seen recent unprecedented growth. Unfortunately, Broward County has also recently become the deed and title fraud capital of the country. However, Broward County being the epicenter of deed and title fraud is most certainly going to change as a result of the hard work, programs, and Interlocal agreement, spearheaded by Marty Kiar, Broward County, Property Appraiser.
Criminals are able to perpetuate title and deed fraud schemes from anywhere in the world that has an internet connection. The criminals rely on public information, such as notices of death, in perpetrating their fraud. The modus operandi and spirit of the title and deed fraud schemes is exemplified in the famous Jane’s Addiction song, Been Caught Stealing:
“When I want something, I don’t want to pay for it,
I walk right through the door. Walk right through the door.
Hey all right! If I get by, it’s mine. Mine all mine!”
The Clerk of Court’s recording duties are administerial and governed by section 28.222, Fla. Stat. As such, there is very little that can be done to stop an individual walking through the front door of the recorder’s office, recording a fraudulent quit claim deed on the residence, and then walking right into the front door of the residence – thinking it’s mine.
Broward County attorneys need to be on the lookout and cognizant of the signs of deed and title fraud. If an attorney is representing an estate and ascertains that there is a false or suspect deed on real property then the attorney should quickly file something such as a quiet title action in order to get the Court’s attention as to what is going on. The general rule with title and deed fraud is the earlier it is detected the better it can be dealt with. Moreover, false and fraudulent deeds often have glaring issues with the actual instrument. As such, attorneys should carefully examine the deed, the names, spelling of the names, property description, the author of the deed’s information in the top left corner, where the deed is notarized, and who executed the suspect deed.
Furthermore, properties that are bank owned, second home properties, and vacant land, are usually targets for the criminals. The reason is that the owner of the property isn’t there to regularly monitor what is going on. They pick on people that are most vulnerable and usually in dire straits,
Our elected officials have made cracking down on title and deed fraud a priority and the results have been speaking for themselves. Rarely does a week go by where there isn’t a story in the news about a recent title fraud ring being busted. Just recently, a $12 million real estate property theft ring was broken up. The criminals targeted elderly owners and bank owned properties and filed civil lawsuits to quiet title against the elderly homeowners, banks and others with an interest in the property. The enterprise had at least 12 people working on the 14 properties the criminal enterprise targeted. One of the reasons for the breakup of this enterprise was a real owner of an adjacent property had a chance in-person interaction with some individuals that were pretending to be property owners. Sensing something was awry, the real property owner called the Broward County Property Appraiser’s Office and alerted of the suspicious activity. If anyone ever witnesses suspicious activity or has concerns about a property, they should immediately call the Broward County Property Appraiser about their concerns.
The goals for these criminals that perpetrate deed and title fraud can range from selling a property they don’t own, mortgaging the property they do not own, to renting the property they do not own. The bottom line is the criminals put very little money into the deed and title fraud scheme, so any positive income stream usually means they are reaping financial rewards that keep the criminals coming back.
There is a very simple, quick, and cheap way for property owners to take proactive measure to prevent deed and title fraud. The Broward County Property Appraiser’s Owner Alert Program is a free service designed to help protect property from scams or fraud by notifying the property owner if a document is received by the Broward County Property Appraiser changing the ownership of their property. All that is needed to sign up is the property identification number, and your drivers license or Florida identification number. https://web.bcpa.net/OwnerAlert. With the Owner Alert Program, a property owner is notified if the title to their property changes at all. As such, if an owner receives notification of a title change then they can immediately act and file what is necessary. Moreover, our elected officials have taken measures to deter and decrease deed and title fraud incidents. An Interlocal Agreement was entered into on July 28, 2022 between the Office of the State Attorney for the 17th Judicial Circuit and the Broward County Property Appraiser. Pursuant to the Interlocal Agreement, the Broward County Property Appraiser’s Office assigned specially trained investigators to the Deed Fraud Unit. The investigators are tasked with identifying and investigating suspected deed fraud and related crimes. If an investigation in the Broward County Property Appraiser’s office determines that there is a reason to suspect that a crime of deed fraud has occurred, then it will turn over the information from its investigation to the Office of the State Attorney and local law enforcement.
As members of the legal community, we need to take proactive action to prevent further title and deed fraud schemes from being perpetrated. Counsel should advise all of their clients to sign up for the free Owner Alert Program and be on the lookout for indications of deed and title fraud. If there is suspicious or questionable activity, then an immediate call to the Property Appraiser’s Office should be made to alert them of the issue.
The instances of deed and title fraud in Broward County are certainly going to decrease with the Owner Alert Program, the Interlocal Agreement, and the hard work of our elected officials.
See original article here – Pages 26-27