Posted on October 11, 2022 in: Guest Column
As your Property Appraiser, protecting the properties of our residents and businesses from fraudulent activity is something I take very seriously. For more than ten years, I served our county in many capacities as a sworn law enforcement officer for the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office. Fraud is a crime I investigated many times in my former occupation. This prior experience strengthens my aspirations to protect our Citrus County residents. Fraud now filters over into my current career as your Property Appraiser.
When it comes to the law, the definition of fraud is exceptionally broad. A quick internet search of the word “fraud” results in a general definition of “wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain”. Fraud is not a word most people normally think about when it comes to property ownership. Unfortunately, our office encounters fraud via several different methods. There are criminals in our county, and counties across the nation, trying to commit crimes regarding your property in one capacity or another. In this month's article I will discuss the various types of fraud our office deals with - specifically homestead exemption fraud, property ownership fraud, and agriculture classification fraud.
Homestead exemption fraud occurs when a person who has filed for homestead exemption (or is currently receiving homestead exemption) does not reside on the property in which the homestead exemption is being used. An example of homestead exemption fraud is a property owner who is receiving homestead on their property in Citrus County and also receiving homestead exemption on a parcel in another county or state. Pursuant to section 196.131(2) of the Florida Statutes, any person who knowingly and willfully gives false information to claim homestead exemption is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable by imprisonment up to one year, a fine up to $5,000, or both. All homestead exemption applicants must sign the application stating they understand this information.
Property ownership fraud occurs when someone else records a fraudulent deed, mortgage or other document via a public record, in which it appears the ownership to the property has transferred to a third party when the third party has no legitimate legal rights to said property. Property ownership fraud is a continuous and frequent crime investigated throughout the State of Florida. An example of property ownership fraud is when an individual goes to the Citrus County Clerk of Court’s Office and records a deed or lien against your property or transfers your property into their name via the Clerk of Court’s office.
How do Citizens Protect Themselves Against Property Fraud? The Citrus County Clerk of Court has an amazing program to help protect our citizens against property ownership fraud. It is
called RECORDING ACTIVITY NOTIFICATION or RAN for short. RAN notifies subscribers if any document has been filed at the Citrus County Clerk of Court’s Office with their name on it. Homeowners who sign up for the RAN notification system will be able to take prompt, appropriate action if they determine the activity to be fraudulent. You can enroll in the RAN program by visiting the Clerk of Court’s website at citrusclerk.org/ran. In addition to RAN, our office also conducts an extra safety measure when a deed is recorded with an out of state or out of country mailing address.
Agriculture classification fraud occurs when a property owner no longer qualifies for an agricultural exemption on their property, yet continues to benefit financially from the agricultural exemption or does not remove the exemption from their property. An agricultural classification results in a lower property tax bill for the qualified property owners. Each agriculture exemption must meet all the requirements by Florida law - pursuant to Florida Statutes 193.461(3) (b) – to qualify land for agricultural classification, an application must be filed with the property appraiser by March 1 of the tax year. Only those portions of lands which are used for bona fide commercial agricultural purposes with the intent of earning a profit shall be classified agricultural. Bona fide commercial agricultural purposes means, good faith, commercial agricultural use of the land (personal uses or hobbies do not qualify). For example, horticulture, floriculture, viticulture, forestry, dairy, livestock, poultry, pisciculture, production of tropical fish, aquaculture, sod farming, all forms of farm products and farm production.
If you suspect a property owner of any type of fraud, our office has an anonymous fraud hotline to submit the suspected fraud. Residents can visit our website at www.citruspa.org. Click on the EXEMPTIONS tab, then choose EXEMPTION FRAUD at the bottom of the list. Then click the ONLINE FRAUD FORM in the middle of the screen under the green box. Individuals can submit an electronic fraud form to report any suspected fraud - homestead exemption, agricultural classification, or institutional/wholly exemptions. You can also call our office to report the suspected fraud at 352-341-6600.