The hot real estate market in the Tampa Bay area is also bringing with it an increase in property fraud crimes, such as when crooks take possession of homes by submitting false information with the documents that officially record ownership of a property. Known as home title fraud or house stealing, it is becoming a big concern, especially for elderly residents and absentee owners with vacation or rental homes. Deployed members of the military are also often targeted by title theft criminals.
Besides preventing someone from using, selling, renting or even accessing their own property, thieves can move in with their false ownership claim and sell the property themselves or use it to obtain loans in the real owner’s name. It usually requires a lot of time and effort to fix the problems that occur once home title theft happens.
One program provides an easy way for property owners to be proactive in avoiding being a victim of this crime. While crooks have learned to manipulate public records to their advantage, an alert can be set up with the office of the Hillsborough County clerk of court that will notify an owner when documents are filed under their name.
Hillsborough County Clerk of Court and Comptroller Cindy Stuart said it just takes a few minutes to set up the alert to avoid potentially wasting much more time and money as a victim.
“You can actually even sign up on your phone. It takes less than five minutes for you to register your home and your name,” she said.
Stuart added that the alerts will quickly notify property owners about official changes to the records on file and potential fraud.
“Our free property alert program will notify homeowners within 48 hours whenever a document is processed in Hillsborough County using your name or your business name,” said Stuart.
There is no charge to create a property fraud alert and multiple names of residents, businesses and trusts can be entered to receive alerts via text message, email or voice message.
Residents can set up a property fraud alert on a commercial website that the Hillsborough County Clerk of Court’s Office uses to assist residents in protecting themselves from the crime. An alert can be created by visiting www.propertyfraudalert.com/flhillsborough or calling 800-728-3858.