DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - DeKalb County homeowners have a new layer of protection from thieves who steal houses after a series of Channel 2 Action News investigations exposed how difficult it's been for law enforcement to combat the fraud.
Clerk of Superior Court Debra DeBerry is the first in Georgia to enact a fraud alert system, which is already in use in several other states.
The system is free and simply requires users to go to the clerk of court's website and register their property. They will receive an electronic notification via email or text message if any new deed or lien is filed on their property.
"We think this is just a very small way that we can help, and hopefully the rest of Georgia will do the same, every county," DeBerry told Channel 2 investigative reporter Jodie Fleischer.
Fleischer first began exposing the schemes nearly four years ago after catching a group using bogus deeds to take over homes.
DeBerry says her counter clerks see fraudsters walk up every day and, using one piece of paper, steal other people's homes.
"It's a huge problem and it costs taxpayers," said DeBerry. "I do think it's crazy. So hopefully this fraud registry will at least alert someone immediately, that someone came in and filed something on their property."
The new system will run through her website. If homeowners receive an alert and it's a fraudulent filing, they can call police right away.
"If they can protect us that would be a good thing," said DeKalb County homeowner Gary Edelman.
Edelman lives right around the corner from a Decatur home stolen using paperwork in 2011. DeKalb County has been at the center of every Channel 2 Action News investigation into house stealing.
In 2010, Fleischer was there as swarms of officers raided a home on South Goddard Road in Lithonia. A dozen suspects were charged with racketeering, for stealing 18 properties in eight local counties.
Last May, Fleischer revealed how a group of suspects used bogus deeds to take over and move into a million
-dollar home on Belair Lake Road.
"It's shocking but I'm not surprised given everybody's Internet savvy," Edelman said.
Georgia law does not require deed filers to prove any rights to a property when filing.
DeBerry says her clerks do ask every filer for identification, so there's a record in case the document is disputed later. Those disputes can be expensive and time
Thieves often target foreclosures or other empty houses prime for squatters. The new system should catch them sooner.
DeBerry plans to share the idea with other court clerks around the state. She was even able to use her current vendor to keep costs minimal.
Edelman says he'll sign up right away.
"When you have a problem in your community and elected officials can sit down like adults and try to help solve the problem, that's what we want government for and we pay quite a bit in taxes, so it's a good thing and I hope it works out," Edelman said.