CORAL SPRINGS, Florida – Gary Landau, a longtime real estate and probate attorney and founder of the Law Office of Gary M. Landau, P.A., is alerting clients to the increase in home title fraud committed in South Florida.
Title fraud happens when someone changes a legal deed with a fraudulent one that lists someone else as the owner. Then that fraudulent person takes out a second mortgage or even sells the property, without the real owner knowing what is happening. Or, if the owner is deceased, the person falsely gets a probate court to pass the property to them.
The problem was outlined in a recent article in the South Florida Sun-Sentinel entitled “Home Fraud ‘Is Out of Control.’” The article reported on a case of two women who allegedly fraudulently gained control of two homes in Cooper City by using falsified documents, acquiring them in a probate and selling them for over $500,000 of ill-gotten profit. In the article, the Broward County Property Appraiser’s Office (BCPA) noted that they hear from people every day reporting of strangers trying to claim a family’s home.
According to the article, the women are facing charges of scheme to defraud, elderly exploitation, and grand theft. They also allegedly had dozens of other homes illegally transferred to them, but many were outside the statute of limitations for prosecution, the article stated.
“This is a growing problem, but fortunately there are things homeowners can do to protect themselves,” Gary Landau says. “I’m advising my clients to take this problem seriously.”
On a local South Florida television station last year, BCPA property appraiser Marty Kiar noted that “scammers have figured out how to forge deed documents and file them with the county to take ownership of a home. The thieves have found a loophole.” A key reason this can happen is that Florida law requires the county records division to accept any filed document. Additionally, the law prohibits county offices from confirming whether a person listed on a deed is the valid owner, as long as the document is notarized and witnessed by two individuals.
A Free County Service Helps People Protect Their Homes
Several companies sell title monitoring services, but these services are costly, and because they alert you after a new deed has been filed when they perform a random check, it may be weeks or months after the illegal transfer. “I’ve never advised my clients to purchase these services,” Landau says.
However, Broward County recently began its own free program that Landau believes is worth participating in. Called Owner Alert, the program by BCPA also doesn’t prevent the fraud from occurring. But it alerts the rightful owners within 24 hours by email if there is any title change on the property, so they can take swift action. According to the Sun Sentinel, within two months of its introduction last year, some 26,000 homeowners signed up for it.
Landau first alerted his real estate clients to the BCPA Owner Alert program months ago, in an article published on the firm’s website. Since then, the problem of home title fraud has continued to grow.
Another news story from a television station in Central Florida last month documented how the problem is occurring there as well, resulting in thousands of homeowners signing up for a similar service offered by counties in that area.
“I’m afraid these title fraud schemes will continue, which is why homeowners and heirs must remain vigilant. Since the Broward County program is free, it’s important for everyone to enroll, so they can be alerted to unauthorized activity when it is easiest to fix,” Landau says. If someone fraudulently changes the title to your home, you can then notify law enforcement right away, he advises.
Owner Alert is a free service designed to help property owners in Broward County. To register, click on the application page for the service and provide your name, property ID number (which can be searched on the website) and your email address.
Once registered, BCPA notifies homeowners if there has been a change of property ownership, based on a new deed recorded with the Broward County Records Division. The notification comes via email, with the link to the recorded document. More information on the program can be found on the program’s frequently asked questions page.
About the Law Office of Gary M. Landau, P.A.
Gary M. Landau is a longtime attorney based in Coral Springs, Florida, who practices in the areas of real estate, probate, wills and trusts. He is also a certified mediator – mediating escrow and other disputes so that both parties come to a mutually satisfying resolution.
Over the years, Gary M. Landau has served as chair of the real property section of the Broward Bar Association and was a member of the Board of Directors of the Broward Bar. He was also a longtime member of the Ft. Lauderdale Board of Realtors Lawyer-Realtor Committee.
His law office has been featured in the Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, the Coconut Creek/Margate Forum, and other media.
The Law Office of Gary M. Landau, P.A. employs many highly experienced real estate and probate paralegals who together have more than 40 years of experience in the field.