CLERK OF COURT & COMPTROLLER
HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FLORIDA
Have you signed up for fraud alerts with my office? If you own property in Hillsborough County, it is well worth your time to subscribe.
Consider recent charges against a couple of people who call themselves Sovereign Citizens. Prosecutors say they stole a $300,000 house in Valrico from a bank by filing a fraudulent deed with my Official Records Office.
The criminal case began last year when Realtor Rod Banks discovered that someone had moved into a vacant Valrico home he had listed. The $300,000 house in the gated community was vacant and Banks had a buyer ready to go. Banks called the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office. When sheriff’s deputies arrived at the home, Carolyn Knight-Williams, 66, showed them a warranty deed on the property as a trustee for U.S. Bank.
The ensuing investigation uncovered an alleged scheme involving Brenda Williams, a so-called sovereign citizen. As you may know, these people believe the laws of Florida do not apply to them. Both were charged with property fraud, but the mess they made occupied Banks for more than 18 months. The potential buyer backed out and USA Bank spent six months clearing the title, ultimately selling the home to another buyer for a lesser price. Meanwhile, Banks spent months waiting to be repaid for the expenses he incurred.
“It’s really annoying, and no one wins in the end,” Banks said.
As this case shows, property fraud is expensive and all too common. If it can happen to a bank, it can happen to anyone. Errors are even more common. Attorney Dale Appell points out that the alerts are a good way to monitor errors. “Knowing what’s going on with your property is very important,” he said. “Mistakes can create issues when you go to sell your property and, all of a sudden, you’re in a quiet title action that can mess up a sale.”
You can subscribe for our free alerts in less than a minute. Go to hillsclerk.com's Property Fraud Alerts. Simply follow the instructions to subscribe. You will be alerted whenever a property-related document is recorded in your name. The alerts cover deeds, liens, mortgages or legal notices which are related to any property you own.
Receiving a property fraud alert does not mean you have been victimized. Most transactions are legitimate. You will be able to quickly determine whether a document is legitimate and, if it is not, you can alert authorities to investigate. Reviewing your property records is an important way to protect yourself, whether it’s fraud or error.
This early notification can provide valuable time to stop criminals in their tracks. I encourage you to sign up today and to urge all of your clients who own real estate to do the same.