State Rep. Fiona McFarland’s bill aimed at preventing fraud from occurring on a state database of Florida businesses has been signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The bill will provide the Department of State the authority to require passwords and verify the identification of people changing records on Sunbiz.org, the state’s database for businesses.
Previous coverage: Stranger accused of using website flaw to hijack Sarasota man’s real estate business
More: Sarasota Rep. McFarland files bill to secure Sunbiz.org, prevent hijacking of businesses
Sunbiz.org is managed by the Division of Corporations, which is a division of the Florida Department of State. The website currently acts in an administrative filing capacity and accepts any changes “at face value.”
While it is a third-degree felony to fraudulently change a record on Sunbiz.org, the current system does not check the identity of anyone applying for a change. This has allowed businesses to be defrauded in the past, according to a Herald-Tribune investigation last year.
McFarland told the Herald-Tribune when she filed her bill that she decided to do so after the newspaper detailed how a Parrish man allegedly hijacked a Sarasota real estate company and took out loans on the companies properties totaling more than $1 million.
“I’m happy to announce that “The “Sunbiz bill” has been signed into law by the Governor!” McFarland tweeted on Monday. “Dept. of State can now create a password-protected program for registered” Florida businesses.
McFarland thanked Rep. Chip LaMarca and State Senator Erin Grall for getting the bill to the governor’s desk. Grall sponsored a Senate version of the bill.
“Let’s keep demanding safe and excellent” government services, McFarland concluded her tweet.
It took the Sarasota Police Department more than four months to complete their investigation after the Herald-Tribune first wrote about the allegations. Robert E. Houston Jr. was arrested on numerous felony charges in January stemming from the Sarasota Police Department’s investigation.
According to the arrest report, the bank accounts that Houston is accused of using in the real estate scheme were nearly empty by the time police made the arrest.
Houston remains in the Sarasota County jail, according to the jail log on Tuesday afternoon.
This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Gov. Ron DeSantis signs bill aimed at protecting Florida Business from fraud