Both Miami Dade County and Broward County offer homeowners services that can help avoid the possibility of their home being illegally sold.
By: Edda Pujadas
Given the current situation in the real estate market, characterized by a shortage in properties, all homeowners must be alert about scams that might involve fraud or counterfeiting of property titles.
As a buyer, the best way to make sure that the home that you are buying has a clean title, without any problem, and that the seller is, in fact, the owner of the property, is by your real estate agent conducting all the necessary due diligence before presenting an offer.
Once you have a contract, the transaction will then be in the hands of the title company. This is the entity that will conduct all the necessary research on the property and that at the end of the process will make sure that you get the property that you are buying, together with an insured title, which guarantees that your new home will be under your name and that it is free of any legal problem or violation.
Now, if you are not buying a new home and you just want to make sure that no fraud or counterfeiting can be committed on your property, you have access to a series of services that Miami Dade and Broward Counties offer.
According to Pedro Garcia, Property Appraiser for Miami Dade County, to reduce fraud against homeowners, the Clerk of Court’s Secretary will send a courtesy letter to the owner of the home every time there is an attempt to make a change or make a different registry to any property deed.
Another tool that provides security is that, as a homeowner, you must receive a tax notice at the end of August every year. If you do not receive this, you must immediately contact the Property Appraiser and verify in the Property Records search tool of the Miami Dade County website that your property is still under your name.
If you suspect that someone has obtained a fraudulent deed on your property, you must notify the Economic Crimes Bureau of the Miami Dade Police Department at 305-994-1000. If your property is unoccupied, it is more likely that a forgery of your title takes place.
For this reason, it is recommended that you periodically review the Miami Dade County website, under their Property search tab at https://www.miamidade.gov/Apps/PA/propertysearch/#/.
In Broward, the Property Appraiser is offering a free service called “Owner Alert” to help homeowners avoid being victims of any fraud related to the property titles of their homes.
This is a free application that allows homeowners in Broward know if they might be the victims of title robbery or fraud. Marty Kiar, Broward County Property Appraiser, explained that according to the law in Florida, the Division of Records must accept any document that is presented before them, and the County offices cannot verify if the person in the title is, in fact, the owner of the property. The only requirement for any document that is presented is that it be notarized and signed by two witnesses.
This is how criminals can present false property titles against someone’s property. After that, they take this fake property title, and they try to extort, mortgage, sell or rent your property. This was the reason for which Broward County developed the application called “Owner Alert.” In a very short time, more than 26,000 homeowners have registered in it.
Once someone registers in this application, if there is any change to their property title, they will be immediately notified. Registration takes less than 5 minutes, and all that you need is the identification of the property, that can be found in the letter that Marty Kiar sends to the homeowners, as well as your drivers license’s number.
Within 24 hours of this application being launched, there were already four alerts of titles that had changed ownership and needed to be reviewed. This shows the need for this type of service in Broward. The FBI has already released bulletins notifying the public about these types of robbery of property titles due to the increase in cases in South Florida.
One of the most notorious cases of these types of crimes was a group that faced charges for taking ownership of 44 homes, valued at 12 million dollars, in Broward. Apparently, they stole houses with problems; eighteen of these houses belonged to deceased people. This group was arrested.
These detainees will sell, rent, or live in these houses using powers of attorney or resignation deeds to take possession of them. They operated under the names of several companies, including Global Homebuyers, Prestige Home Buyers, and Global Management Consulting Group. The suspects are facing more than 600 felony charges, including grand larceny and identity theft.
Some of the signs that your property title has been stolen might be that you stop receiving your tax notice or tax bill, that you receive a notice of default from your mortgage company when you are not in default, or that you start receiving correspondence for transactions that you do not know about. If you experience any of these irregularities, you must immediately contact the County office where your property is located.