JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Clerks of Court for Baker, Clay, Duval, Nassau, Putnam and St. Johns counties want the residents they serve to take advantage of free property fraud alert services offered by each of their offices.
The clerks joined forces Monday to urge property owners to protect themselves against scammers who would steal their homes, vacant land or business property through fraudulent deeds or other official records.
“Property and identity fraud are national and local problems that can have a serious impact,” said Putnam County Clerk Matt Reynolds. “By taking advantage of this service offered by the Clerk of Circuit Court and Comptroller’s Office, citizens can get ahead of fraud and protect the things we have all worked so hard to achieve.”
Reynolds and Clerks Stacie D. Harvey, Tara S. Green, Jody Phillips, John A. Crawford and Brandon J. Patty launched a regional campaign to highlight a shared webpage that provides property fraud signup links in all six counties.
“Northeast Florida Clerks are united to fight property fraud across the region, as criminals don’t stop at the county line,” said St. Johns County Clerk Patty.
Property fraud is when someone illegally uses your property for financial gain. A common example is when a scammer creates a fraudulent document that will deed your home to them and then records that document in a county’s official records.
“We are now seeing instances where your home and property can be digitally stolen from you by the filing of a fraudulent deed by scammers miles and miles away,” said Baker County Clerk Harvey.
But property owners themselves can easily discern if ownership of their home or business has been modified — if they are notified that a change has occurred.
“Receiving notifications that something may be amiss is the first step to fighting back. We encourage all property owners to register for this free service that your Clerks have implemented for your protection,” said Nassau County Clerk Crawford, who recently launched the county’s new property fraud alert service.
To combat the nationwide rise in property and mortgage fraud, identity protection companies charge monthly or annual fees to monitor your official records. But your local Clerk of Court offers a free do-it-yourself option — simply subscribe to receive alerts when an official record document is recorded in your name(s) with that office.
“We ask property owners to partner with us, as we work to eliminate the attempts to steal homes and land,” said Clay County Clerk Green. “Bad actors might get away with a fraudulent filing, but an alert sent to a registered property owner will quickly follow that allows the property owner to intervene.”
Like paid commercial alert systems, the free noticing service does not prevent a fraudulent action from occurring. As a county’s recorders of deeds and mortgages, Clerks of Court document property records but are not authorized to determine the validity of the record.
“Although the notification won’t stop the fraudulent transaction, it will give the property owners the opportunity to right the wrong before it’s too far gone!” Harvey said.
Local realtor Jonathan Daugherty, since 2009, says he’s gotten calls about home that were not for sale. He thinks the alert system will help homeowners.
“I think it’s a great tool and it sounds like it’s pretty easy for people to do,” said Realtor Jonathan Daugherty with Realtor Future Home Realty.
The free notification service provides an early warning system for subscribers, giving them a tool to become aware of fraudulent activity that may have otherwise gone undetected. Once notified, a property owner knows to contact law enforcement, seek legal advice, or even file a case in civil court.
“Property fraud alerts give individuals and businesses the tools they need to proactively monitor recorded documents and stop property fraud at its very source,” Duval Clerk Phillips said. “I greatly appreciate my fellow Clerks joining with me on the front steps of the Duval County Courthouse today as we present a united front against those who would seek to steal from our communities.”
Here are some tips from the FBI to make sure you are not a victim of this kind of fraud:
- Get referrals for real estate and mortgage professionals. Check the licenses of the industry professionals with state, county, or city regulatory agencies
- If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Promises of big profits in a small amount of time are signals of concern
- Be wary of unsolicited contacts and high-pressure sales online or over the phone