By NewsLine Staff
While traveling a few months back, St. Johns County businessman Jim Browning’s attention was captured by a radio ad promoting property fraud protection. As a business owner with multiple properties, he called the advertiser for more information, learning that the paid commercial identity protection service would monitor his records and alert him of any potentially fraudulent activity.
“I have five or six properties, and it was about $1,500 a year to list them with a service,” said Browning, owner of The Browning Agency, a full-service insurance brokerage and consulting firm in Ponte Vedra.
Interested in saving money while still protecting his properties, Browning sought out St. Johns County Clerk of Courts and Comptroller Brandon J. Patty for information about the Clerk’s free service to alert property owners to any unusual activity in their official records filed with the county.
Motivated by the conversation with Browning, Patty launched a year-long public awareness campaign in March to urge St. Johns County property owners to register for the free noticing service, which alerts a subscriber via email any time an official record document is recorded in their name with the Clerk’s office. The campaign’s goal is to sign up 10,000 residents for free property fraud notifications this year.
Like commercial alert systems, the Clerk’s free noticing service does not prevent a fraudulent action from occurring. It does, however, provide a free early warning system for subscribers, giving them a tool to become aware of activity that may have otherwise gone undetected.
“Property and mortgage fraud is one of the nation’s fastest growing white-collar crimes,” said Patty. “To combat this, identity protection companies charge monthly or annual fees to monitor your official records — for instance, your deed — but you can do it yourself for free. Simply subscribe to receive email alerts when an official record document is recorded in your name with the Clerk’s office.”
Property fraud is when someone illegally uses your property for financial gain, such as creating a fraudulent document that will deed your home to them, and then they record that document in the county’s Official Records.
When receiving an email alert from the Clerk’s office, a subscriber knows to take prompt action if the recording activity is determined to be fraudulent. The alert email provides a subscriber with an Official Records (OR) book and page number to view the document in public records. The book and page number are the document numbers on the email alert.
“With the Clerk of Court’s free property fraud notifications, you don’t pay a monthly charge and you have an automatic email trigger if recording activity occurs,” Browning said.
Where paid alert systems tout coverage up to a million dollars for lawyers and experts, the Clerk of Court and Comptroller’s free subscription service is a do-it-yourself option in which the subscriber would contact local law enforcement to investigate potentially criminal activity and/or contact a civil litigator to seek damages and to correct the fraudulent record in the county’s Official Records. A court order would likely be necessary to correct the record in the county’s Official Record books.
“Remember, you don’t have to pay for alerts that are free through our service,” Patty said. “If there’s fraudulent recording activity on your property record, immediately contact law enforcement.”
Visit the Clerk’s website at stjohnsclerk.com/recording-activity/ to subscribe to this free service.
Photo courtesy St. Johns County Clerk of Court
St. Johns County Clerk of Court and Comptroller Brandon Patty.