The greatest fear of a homeowner is discovering that the title to their home has been signed over to someone else — without the homeowner knowing about it all — and losing virtually the entirety of their greatest investment.

The Ellis County Commissioners’ Court on Tuesday took action against a growing threat to homeowners: Property fraud.

The court voted unanimously at its biweekly meeting to approve a contract with Data Preservation Solutions, LLC for property fraud alert services in the amount of $22,566.88 for a term of three years. The agreement will allow all Ellis County property owners to register — free of charge — for monitoring of any changes to their deed records.

Ellis County Clerk Krystal Valdez told commissioners that property fraud alerts were one way for the county to help protect citizens and their property and hopefully prevent future fraudulent filings.

“As county clerk, it is my duty to act as recorder and custodian of important public records,” Valdez said. “We have a ministerial duty to accept documents for filing and recording if a statute authorizes, requires or permits the document to be filed or recorded. If no statute authorizes, requires or permits it, we may not accept it. So generally we can accept any document that is signed, properly notarized and doesn’t appear to be fraudulent.

“As our county continues to grow, we are becoming more and more susceptible to fraud. It could take years before someone is aware that a fraudulent document was filed using their name or property, potentially leading to thousands of dollars in legal expenses to get it cleared up.”

Lance Gonzales of Data Preservation Solutions told commissioners that his company offers a number of services to county government, namely backfile scanning services, indexing, historical document preservation, land recording software, vitals recording software, and property fraud alerts.

“Property fraud alerts monitor the daily recordings of land records within the office,” Gonzales said. “Each time a constituent comes into the office and files a record, that data goes into a database which we collect, and we notify the constituent either by email, text message or phone call as long as they’re registered up for the program. The program is extremely easy to sign up (for). We provide fliers for the county with a website that they can go to and register, a phone number that they can call and register, and all that information is stored in a database that we monitor.”

In 2007, the FBI declared that mortgage fraud was the fastest-growing white-collar crime in America, and Texas ranks among the top hot spots for property fraud.

Gonzales said Data Preservation Solutions is the exclusive provider of the program in the state of Texas, with 179 counties and 146,000 property owners in 17 states signed up nationwide for the service. Collin, Dallas and Tarrant are among the Texas counties who are providing property fraud alert coverage, and Gonzales said Tarrant County already has close to 40,000 registrations.

Another company operates in the state, but charges its customers a monthly fee.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Paul Perry said property fraud alerts are one way to increase the efficiency of law enforcement assets.

“One of the obligations of government is to protect people from force and fraud,” Perry said. “The question is, how best to do that? The way this has been explained to me, we’re spending a little money up front, but we might save a lot more money in court time and our own assets going forward. Plus the fact we are doing what I think we should do, which is protect our citizenry from force and fraud. That’s a basic duty of government.”

The Ellis County website will soon link to a sign-up page for property fraud alerts. The county will own the software, but Data Preservation Solutions will handle monitoring and program support. Gonzales said the amount of the initial three-year contract covers the software, and the agreement can be extended for only about $2,400 to $2,600 per year to cover support.