ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – A News 6 investigation into a fraudulent real estate transaction has prompted thousands of Central Floridians to sign up for free property fraud alert notifications.
William Flanigan recently discovered someone had used a fraudulent deed to take possession of a vacant lot he owns in Oakland where he is planning to build a home.
Using the stolen identity of an Oviedo man, the unidentified thief later tried to sell Flanigan’s property to an unsuspecting buyer. A real estate broker halted the transaction when he became suspicious of the seller.
Flanigan first learned about the fraudulent deed after receiving an automated alert from the Orange County comptroller’s office that notifies citizens when an official record, like a deed or mortgage, is recorded under their name.
More than 3,000 people signed up for property fraud alerts throughout Central Florida in the week after News 6 published its report about Flanigan’s ordeal, including about 1,500 new registrations in Orange County.
“You got results,” said Orange County Comptroller Phil Diamond. “I was really surprised, to tell you the truth. I thought we’d have some people signing up. I didn’t think we’d have that many people signing up.”
Many of those counties also reported a significant increase in new sign-ups for fraud alerts following News 6′s report.
“It’s a great service,” said Seminole County Clerk of Court Grant Maloy. “Your story generated a lot of interest.”
Diamond, whose Orange County office records more than 3,000 physical and electronic documents each day, said such programs cannot prevent fraudulent paperwork from being filed, but early detection gives citizens the opportunity to correct issues and, if necessary, contact law enforcement.
“That’s the law in Florida,” Diamond said. “If the deed looks good and it has everything it’s supposed to have, (we) have to record it.”
After receiving the property fraud alert, Flanigan worked with the identity theft victim to get his name restored on the property’s title.
He also reported the fraudulent real estate transaction to law enforcement, which is now actively investigating the crime.
“That’s so great!,” Flanigan told News 6 after learning his story has prompted hundreds of other citizens to sign up for property fraud alerts. “Helping anyone not go through what I did makes it all worth it.”
Besides signing yourself up for free property fraud alerts, Diamond recommends registering the names of loved ones, including elderly family members.
“They’re just as vulnerable, maybe more so,” Diamond said. “And I think it’s important to protect as many people as we can.”