In Florida, with no mechanism to ensure the authenticity of deeds filed at county offices, criminals know that stealing a house can be easier than burglarizing one, says the Miami Herald. With little more than a forged signature and a stolen notary’s seal, thieves scoop up homes and vacant lots, taking out a mortgage or selling the property to unsuspecting buyers before the original owners know what hit them. Law enforcers say deed forgery is rampant in South Florida, where absentee ownership by investors and seasonal residents has left thousands of units vacant. Soaring real estate values have increased the allure of vulnerable properties.
Property thieves target homes and vacant lots that seem abandoned or have delinquent taxes and multiple liens — signs an owner isn’t attentive. All it takes is a trip to the store and the clerk or county recorder’s office. ”You can go to Office Depot to get a document and walk into any courthouse in Florida and pay 10 bucks to record it and you own a home,” said Sgt. Richard Davis of Miami-Dade County Police’s economic crimes bureau. Lenders and the real property owners don’t discover the fraud until foreclosure action is taken.