Addressing citizen concerns about property fraud is a top priority for Clerk Karnes. Since his election in 2022, Karnes spearheaded a statewide initiative to reduce property fraud. This resulted in the creation of HB1419, which has established the Property Fraud Pilot Program in Lee County.
What is Property Fraud?
Property fraud occurs when a party uses a forged deed to sell or transfer property that does not belong to them. While a forged deed does not actually transfer the property, it gives the appearance to the rest of the world that the ownership of the property has been changed. If you believe you have been the victim of property fraud, removing this cloud from your title can be a complicated process.
Warning Signs of Deed Fraud
When you receive a notification or become aware of:
- A recorded document on your property where you never signed the document and your signature was forged;
- A recorded document on your property where ownership of your property, or a portion thereof, was transferred or sold to another party without your knowledge;
- A recorded document on your property where the signer of the document was deceased at the time of execution of the document;
- A loan was taken out on your property without your knowledge; and
- Changes or alterations were made to a recorded document after you signed it.
Also, if you:
- Stop receiving your property tax bill or notices;
- Receive a Notice of Default or Notice of Trustee's Sale when you own your home outright (free and clear of a mortgage loan), or when you have a mortgage and you are not delinquent on your loan payments;
- Receive loan documents in the mail for a loan that was obtained without your knowledge; and/or
- Receive real estate documents in the mail for a transaction on your property that was conducted without your knowledge.
Steps to Take for Victims of Property Fraud
The Lee County Clerk of the Circuit Court & Comptroller, Tax Collector and Twentieth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office have created this list of steps you should take immediately to remove the cloud from your property and affirm your ownership.
- Report the Crime to the Appropriate Law Enforcement Agency
Deed forgery and property fraud is a criminal act under Florida Statute 817.535. Lee County’s local law enforcement agencies take this crime seriously and have investigators on staff to investigate these crimes with the hope of bringing the fraudsters to justice. The police report that is created will be helpful to you in removing the cloud from your property.
- File a Complaint with the Circuit Court to Quiet Title Based on Fraudulent Conveyance (Fla. Stat. Sec. 65.091 and 817.535(8)(a))
A Complaint to Quiet Title based upon a Fraudulent Conveyance is a civil lawsuit that will request the Court to declare the offending deed as fraudulent and having no legal effect. You will need to pay the applicable filing fees or file for indigency. Civil lawsuits can be complicated, and you may want to consider having an attorney handle the suit on your behalf. The Lee County Bar Association can recommend qualified attorneys to assist you in this process. A civil lawsuit must be served upon all parties. In cases of fraud, it can sometimes be difficult to locate the fraudsters for service, and a court can allow service by publication in certain circumstances. Any final judgment quieting title should direct the Clerk to remove the fraudulent deed from the Official Record. The Clerk can provide a simplified form to assist you in filing a complaint to quiet title based on a fraudulent conveyance.
- Record a Lis Pendens in the Official Records of Lee County
A lis pendens puts the public on notice that there is a lawsuit involving the property, and helps prevent any subsequent sales or transfers of the property until the court resolves the dispute. The court case must be filed prior to recording the lis pendens.
- Contact the Property Appraiser and Tax Collector
A recorded deed can change the property owner’s address in the Property Appraiser’s and Tax Collector’s systems. As a result, TRIM notices and property tax bills may be sent to a different address. Unpaid taxes can eventually result in the property being sold at Tax Deed Auction.
- Sign Up for Property Fraud Alert
If you have not already done so, sign up for Property Fraud Alert, a free service offered by your Lee Clerk. Property Fraud Alert notifies you within 24 hours of any documents filed that affect your property. While it cannot prevent a fraudulent deed from being filed, it can allow you to respond quickly to address any problems.
Property Fraud Alert
The Lee Clerk offers property owners a free service to alert them of potential property fraud. Property Fraud Alert 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.
How to Sign up
- Visit the Property Fraud Alert Registration page
- Enter your personal or business name and email address
- To register a Trust, enter the Trust as a business name
- To use a middle initial/name, enter it in the First Name field with a space between first name and middle initial/name
- Select the Send Confirmation Email button
- Click the link in the confirmation email to complete the verification process
You may repeat the registration process as many times as you want for personal or business names or variations of names per email address. You may unregister at any time by following the same registration process, and you will receive an email to complete the alert removal.
If You Receive an Alert
If you receive an email notification from “Lee Clerk Fraud Alert,” a document has been recorded that matches a name you registered. You can view the document to confirm if it potential fraud or another type of record.
- The alert will provide you with a document number, which is the Clerk's File Number or CFN
- Search the online Official Records to view the file
If you dispute a lien that has been recorded against your property, contact the lien filer.
Lee County and the Lee Clerk assume no liability for the provision of this free service. Under Florida Law, any email addresses and phone numbers subscribed to this service are public record. If you do not want your information released through a public records request, do not subscribe to this service. Property Fraud Alert notifications are not sent for court-related documents.