Gary Singer, a real-estate lawyer, writes a business column for the Sun Sentinel.

Gary Singer, a real-estate lawyer, writes a business column for the Sun Sentinel. (TNS)

TNS

In light of recent arrests in what the Broward County, Fla., Sheriff's Office is calling a fraudulent real estate ring, I want to take this opportunity to provide you with tips on how to protect yourself. With this type of fraud, authorities say homes are illegally taken without owners' consent.

The rise of technology has made it very easy to create fraudulent documents that can be easily recorded in public records, and these documents can make it appear that your property was sold or belongs to someone else. As with most dangers, awareness and diligence are the best ways to protect yourself.

Since the property appraiser keeps records online, the most straightforward way to make sure you are not a victim of this sort of fraud is to check regularly. However, with the press of modern life, it can be difficult to remember to do this. This leads to what I consider the most important method: being aware of changes.

For example, if you start getting mail addressed to a different name at your address, or stop getting mail that you normally might, it can be a sign that there is an issue. Any new deed recorded in the public records triggers a slew of mail advertisements, so they are a great warning sign that something is up.

Another example can be sudden unsolicited interest from prospective real estate agents, water softener or similar home service-related companies, or even prospective tenants showing up at your home. If anything sets off your "gut-check alarm," go online and check the property appraiser for changes - and then check it again a few weeks later to confirm.

If you own a vacation home or any other property that you manage from a distance or keep vacant, you will need to be extra-vigilant, since these sorts of properties are especially vulnerable to fraud. Find a neighbor, or hire a reputable property manager, to regularly check and report on your property. Also, make sure to have mail related to that property forwarded to you, and be concerned if the flow stops unexpectedly.

The overarching lesson is to investigate anything that seems strange. Most times there will be nothing amiss. But once in a while there is, and it is much, much easier to avoid a problem than to spend a lot of time and money fixing one.___

ABOUT THE WRITER

Gary M. Singer is a Florida attorney and board-certified as an expert in real estate law by the Florida Bar. He practices real estate, business litigation and contract law from his office in Sunrise, Fla. He is the chairman of the Real Estate Section of the Broward County Bar Association and is a co-host of the weekly radio show Legal News and Review. He frequently consults on general real estate matters and trends in Florida with various companies across the nation. Send him questions online at www.sunsentinel.com/askpro or follow him on Twitter @GarySingerLaw.

Visit Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com

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