Pilot program’s goal is to stem property fraud
While Lee County Clerk Kevin Karnes has only been on the job 10 months, combating property fraud has become a priority.
On June 21, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed HB 1419, creating the “Title Fraud Prevention Through Identity Verification Pilot Program,” exclusively for Lee County. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Will Robinson and Sen. Jennifer Bradley, and was passed unanimously by the Legislature.
The new property fraud prevention program requires 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 property-related transactions and investigate fraudulent activity more thoroughly.
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.
Karnes worked with legislators and The Florida Bar Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section to craft the language for the pilot.
“The more I learned, the more I was displeased,” Karnes said. “The law prevented clerks from rejecting potentially fraudulent documents.”
Under current state law, clerks are required to accept and record a document if it meets statutory requirements, even if the document appears fraudulent. The process does not include presenting any sort of identification to the clerk.
The program, Karnes says, is intended to prevent fraud before it starts.
“It’s designed to get a government ID on file when you record a deed,” Karnes said. “It should not be as easy now to steal property and this program is a step in the right direction.”
The statute requires Karnes to file a report with the Legislature by the end of 2025 detailing the outcome of the project and his recommendation as to whether the program should be taken statewide.
Over the past few months, he says there were 93 instances of deeds recorded without proper identification in Lee County but stressed that number is not indicative of 93 instances of fraud.
“I’m hopeful that this pilot program deters criminals but doesn’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 happening to innocent people.”
Throughout the process, Karnes said he was thankful for his RPPTL partners.
“They helped build out the legislation and their feedback was critical to the process,” Karnes said. “They are huge partners with us and I look forward to working with them.”
The pilot program launches July 1 but will be rolled out in phases. Karnes says that his website, www.leeclerk.org, will post the most up-to-date requirements.
Property owners are also encouraged to sign up for Lee Clerk’s Property Fraud Alert, 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.