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Guest Commentary | New state requirements help protect your home from property fraud

By KEVIN KARNES - Lee County Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller | Feb 8, 2024

Kevin Karnes

Criminals shouldn’t be able to steal your home or property. Yet, for many years, thieves have illegally recorded fraudulent deeds to take a property’s ownership from its rightful owners, and the law required the Clerk’s Office to accept these documents without any exception. Once the document was recorded, someone could rent or sell the property for profit to an unsuspecting customer, evict a rightful homeowner, or place liens on the property.

On Jan. 1, new state requirements went into effect to help law enforcement investigate this crime and potentially keep it from happening.

In addition to the previously required two witness signatures, property deeds now must have the post office address of each witness legibly printed, typewritten, or stamped on the deed. This statewide change is a result of HB 1419, which state lawmakers and I initiated to make it harder to file fraudulent deeds. It’s just one more layer of protection for property owners.

Another key part of HB 1419 is the Title Fraud Prevention Through Identity Verification Pilot Program, which requires all persons listed on a deed to provide a government-issued photo ID before the deed is processed. Lee County was chosen to be the state’s pilot location for the program, and my office launched it over the summer. The ID requirement through the program will make it easier for law enforcement to verify the identity of the parties engaged in a property-related transaction and investigate fraudulent activity. We are leading the state in preventing property fraud, and I’m extremely hopeful this will have a huge impact on protecting homeowners.

Even though these are very positive steps in preventing property fraud, one of the best things you can do if you own a home or land in Lee County is to register for our Property Fraud Alert service.

It is a free service that emails notifications within 24 hours to subscribers when a deed, mortgage or other land record with their registered name on it has been recorded into the county’s Official Records. To sign up, visit leeclerk.org/fraudalert. It’s a very simple process that just requires your name and email address. You can even register from your phone. This free service is a more trusted alternative to certain companies you may see advertised on TV or online, which are for-profit entities that sometimes make guarantees they cannot fulfill. You can also register properties owned by a business or those held in a trust.

You’ve worked really hard for your home. It’s where you raise your families and build positive memories. Someone shouldn’t be able to steal it by recording one fraudulent document.

Kevin Karnes is the Lee County Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller.