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The Duval County Property Fraud Alert System: Litigating Home Title Fraud
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The Duval County Property Fraud Alert System: Litigating Home Title Fraud

January 20, 2023 Real Estate Development, Sales and Leasing Industry Legal Blog

Reading Time: 4 minutes

In the modern age of intentional, targeted fraudulent activity, homeowners may find themselves subject to an increasingly popular form of cybercrime: home title fraud. Home title fraud is perpetuated through identity theft and property fraud, allowing criminals to use stolen titles to carry out other types of fraud. This blog post aims to inform homeowners that there are practical legal solutions to discover and remedy home title fraud. Below is a guide that will instruct homeowners on using Duval County’s free property fraud alert system and litigating against the perpetrators of home title fraud.

The Prevalence of Home Title Property Fraud

According to the 2020 edition of the FBI’s annual Internet Crime Report, there were 43,330 reported victims of identity theft and another 13,638 reported victims of property fraud, totaling more than $400 million in estimated losses.

By 2021, the FBI reported more than $600 million in estimated losses, a 50% year-over-year increase. Florida alone was responsible for more than 10% of the claimed losses.

Commons targets of home title fraud include those with significant home equity who are not suspecting fraud (i.e., seniors) and owners of secondary vacation or investment properties. Fraudsters intentionally target homeowners more likely to be trusting, inattentive to actions against their property, or, unfortunately, both.

Duval County’s Property Fraud Alert System

 In June 2022, the Duval County Clerk of Courts announced the launch of its Property Fraud Alert system, joining more than 400 counties nationwide, including six others in Florida.

According to the Duval County Clerk of Courts, interested homeowners can access the free service by doing the following:

  • Register on the Property Fraud Alert website or call 800-728-3858;
  • Enter the business or individual name you would like to monitor; and
  • Select the email address or phone number that will receive the alerts.

If a document is recorded that matches the monitoring criteria, the Clerk of Court’s Office will send an alert within 48 hours, including the associated document number. This document number should be entered into the Official Records of Duval County under the ‘Instrument Number’ tab. The system does not distinguish between common names such as, for example, John Smith, so it is essential to verify whether you are the affected person upon receiving an alert.

Litigating Home Title Fraud

Under Florida law, the Clerk of Court’s Office must record all documents that meet the requirements for title submission to real property under Florida law. § 695.26, Fla. Stat. (Requirements for recording instruments affecting real property). Thus, if a title document is appropriately executed with payment, the Clerk must record the document, even if the document was manufactured fraudulently.

However, if a homeowner becomes aware of title fraud, Florida law grants such homeowners the right to pursue criminal and civil action. § 817.535, Fla. Stat. (Unlawful filing of false documents or records against real or personal property).

Title Fraud is a Felony

Any person who files or attempts to file a fraudulent title deed with an intent to defraud and affect the interests of an owner in the property described in the title deed commits a third-degree felony. § 817.535(2)(a), Fla. Stat.

Defrauded Homeowners May Also File Suit

Any homeowner adversely affected by the filing of a fraudulent title deed has a civil cause of action against the defrauding party, regardless of whether they also pursue criminal charges. § 817.535(8)(a), Fla. Stat.

Successful Litigation Can Do More Than Correct the Record

Upon the court’s determination that the filed title document is fraudulent and does not establish a property interest in favor of another person, the court may award the adversely affected homeowner a corrective deed, actual and punitive damages, and recovery of costs and reasonable attorney’s fees. § 817.535(8)(b), Fla. Stat.

Homeowners Should Take Immediate Action to Mitigate Title Fraud

Whether an action is taken preemptively or responsively, homeowners do not need to sit idly by while scammers perpetrate fraud against their real property interests. Take the necessary steps to utilize the free Property Fraud Alert system and begin monitoring your title documents. Most importantly, be aware that legal remedies are available to compensate affected homeowners for the time, energy, and money required to correct their official records. If you are affected and any questions arise as to how to effectuate this process, we strongly recommend you contact an attorney familiar with real estate law to guide you through the process of filing a civil suit.

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