FORT MYERS, Fla. (June 21, 2023) – Gov. DeSantis signed into law a new pilot program designed to combat property fraud in Florida. HB 1419, an effort initiated by Lee County Clerk Kevin Karnes and local lawmakers, makes it harder to file fraudulent deeds in Lee County.
The “Title Fraud Prevention Through Identity Verification Pilot Program” unanimously passed both Florida legislative chambers and will go into effect July 1, 2023. It authorizes the Lee County Clerk to pilot the program for two years and build out how the process may work for other counties. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Will Robinson and Sen. Jennifer Bradley.
“Nobody should be able to steal your property and get away with it,” Karnes said. “This law creates new requirements when recording deeds in Lee County to deter thieves from targeting property owners. After two years, I will present a formal recommendation to legislators on whether the program could be expanded to all 67 Clerks statewide.”
The new property fraud prevention program will require anyone who records a deed at the Lee County Clerk’s office to present a government-issued photo ID before the deed is processed. This will make it easier for law enforcement to verify the identity of the parties engaged in a property-related transaction and investigate fraudulent activity more thoroughly.
Previously, because of state law, the Clerk’s office was required to accept and record a document if it met statutory requirements, even if the document was fraudulent. That process did not include presenting any sort of identification to the Clerk.
Property fraud occurs when someone illegally records fraudulent documents with forged signatures to make it seem they are the legal owners of a property. Vacant homes and lots are especially susceptible. After the thieves claim ownership, they illegally rent or sell the property to an unsuspecting customer.
“I’m hopeful that this pilot program deters criminals but won’t disrupt the real estate market and those who are legitimately buying property,” Karnes said. “This is a community problem, and we need to come up with a solution so that it doesn’t continue to happen to innocent people.”
Even through the new program goes into effect on July 1, it will be rolled out in phases. The public is encouraged to check www.leeclerk.org before attempting to file a deed. The most up-to-date requirements will be posted on the homepage.
Property owners are also encouraged to sign up for the Lee Clerk’s Property Fraud Alert service, which notifies property owners when a deed, mortgage or other document with their name has been recorded. To learn more and register, visit www.leeclerk.org/fraudalert.
ABOUT THE CLERK’S OFFICE:
The Florida Constitution established the Clerk of the Circuit Court as a public trustee, responsible for safeguarding public records and public funds. Clerk Kevin Karnes is directly elected by and accountable to Lee County residents. In addition to the role of Clerk of the Circuit Court, the Clerk is the County Recorder and Clerk of the Board of County Commissioners, and the Chief Financial Officer, Treasurer and Auditor for Lee County.