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New Service Alerts Pinellas Property Owners to Possible Fraud

By Susan Taylor Martin, Senior Times Correspondent
Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Pinellas County property owners can now get alerts about possibly fraudulent activity involving deeds, affidavits or other official records.

The Pinellas Clerk of Court Office is the first in Florida and among the few in the nation to offer the new property fraud alert system for free to those who sign up.

"This is a wonderful tool,'' said Vanessa Castrogiovanni, the office's communications coordinator. "A lot of people don't really check filings in official records so if somebody is recording something under your name you are alerted right away.''

Since the service began in April, 1,200 individual and corporate property owners have subscribed. So far, no one has reported fraudulent activity though the service is designed to catch situations like that last year in which a convicted robber used forged quit claim deeds and other documents to transfer property to himself.

Among the houses that Patrick "Pastor" Banks tried to acquire was a $1 million bayfront home in St. Petersburg's Venetian Isles neighborhood. Banks is in jail awaiting trial on numerous fraud and grand theft charges.

According to the FBI, property and mortgage fraud is the fastest growing white-collar crime. Although the alert system does not prevent the actual fraudulent activity from taking place, it provides an early warning of fraud that otherwise might have gone undetected.

Anyone who owns property in Pinellas County may sign...

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