COCONUT GROVE, Fla. – A woman whose family owned property for years in Coconut Grove had someone steal it, then sell it, right out from under her.
Now Shirley Gibson can only stare at the 5,000 square foot lot that was ripped from underneath her feet.
“I am deeply hurt that someone would do this to me,” she told Local 10 News. “It represents my heritage. My grandfather purchased this in the early 1900s.”
The 86-year-old is a descendent of early Bahamian settlers turned pioneers of Coconut Grove. A family that has kept several properties in its name for more than a century.
“I would like to have a legacy to leave to my niece and my nephew and my family,” Gibson said.
When she showed up to pay the annual tax bill this week, she was told it had already been paid by a new owner.
She was shown a deed of the sale, which was prepared by an Aventura title company and notarized by a licensed notary two months ago.
“He says Ms. Gibson was physically present, she showed her driver’s license and signed this warranty deed which we know she did not,” said attorney David Winker. “It’s a criminal matter. There’s no doubt in my mind that somebody is behind this.”
Records show the $230,000 purchase, on paper, was by Ollie Development LLC, a company whose address comes back to a residential neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York.
To make matters worse, a second property in West Grove, owned by Gibson, has also been listed for sale, without her knowledge.
Neighbors are jumping in to help.
“I’ve contacted Zillow five times already and it’s still listed,” said neighbor Anthony Vinciguerra. “Developers are just trying to get in here any way they can, property values are skyrocketing.”
Added Gibson: “I’m drained to think that someone would do this to an old person, to take advantage of me.”
Winker is certain that he can get things sorted out for Gibson, but it will take some time.
How can others prevent this from happening?
Homes without a mortgage are more susceptible because it provides less red tape for criminals.
Experts suggest monitoring the property appraisers website every three months or so to check for anything suspicious, and setting up a fraud alert with the credit bureaus. They are trained to alert people for matters like these.