Florida Legislature considering crackdown on title fraud

TAMPA, Fla. - The Florida Legislature is trying to protect the state's most vulnerable from having their life savings ripped out from under them.

Title fraud often impacts elderly homeowners, who've relied on their home to be a nest egg.

"[Thieves] see quick money, lots of money, because even small properties that 20 years ago that were like $80,000, are now $400,000, $500,000."

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Pembroke Pines State Rep. Marie Woodson is pushing a pilot project in Broward County that would turn their property appraiser into a middle man. Her bill said agents involved in a transaction would be encouraged to submit the seller's name and information.

The property appraiser will then notify homeowners registered with their office that a transaction is underway.

"That's basically to keep the bad actors out of the process, to make sure that our seniors are not being defrauded of their own little properties," said Woodson.

Last year, Hillsborough County officials held a news conference to boost their new subscription service for homeowners, which sends an alert any time a transaction is initiated. More than 45,000 residents have signed up.

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Tampa realtor Ali St. Cyr guards against fraud by processing titles in the house.

"Real estate transactions happen very frequently, and you have a lot of people involved," she said. "So email addresses can get compromised or hacked into to get the right information that the fraudster needs in order to intercept big money."

The senate judiciary committee held a meeting Monday, where the bill was well received, winning a unanimous 9-0 vote.

They also advanced a public records exemption for certain identifying information that is submitted to a property appraiser, to make it harder for fraudsters to figure out who is putting property up for sale.

"We have realized that people were stealing other people's homes upon execution of a contract for the sale of a real property parcel," said State Sen. Lauren Book.

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If the legislature approves the pilot program, the Broward County property appraiser will be required to compile a report on how it goes and send it to top state officials.

Florida ranks No. 3 in the nation for this kind of crime.

For information on Hillsborough County's property fraud alert system, head to www.hillsclerk.com/Additional-Services/Property-Fraud-Alert.