Fraudsters target property owners in historic Black neighborhoods in South Florida

Real estate forgery victimizes unsuspecting homeowners

MIAMI – Thieves are forging real estate deeds to steal property with rising values in historic Black neighborhoods in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.

Some of the property had been kept in families for more than a century. Kerry Garrett said he is fighting for a home in Monroe County that his family has owned since the late 1800s.

“We are actually in it right now, in a process of this takeover,” Garrett said.

In some cases, the fraudulent scheme includes the use of false identities and the forging of the homeowners’ signatures. The crooks can use the forged document to take out a loan.

The counties’ property appraisers don’t verify ownership but can update the public record and confirm the owner of record. In Garrett’s case, the fraudster is trying to sell the property.

Kerry Garrett said a fraudster forged a real estate deed to confuse officials and steal a Key West home his family has owned for generations. (Copyright 2020 by WPLG - All rights reserved.)

Garrett’s family home is less than a block away from Key West’s popular bars and restaurants on Duval Street and near beaches. Garrett said he and his family were victims of a scheme to defraud them.

The estate on Center Street is at the center of a court case. He said it is part of an intimidating and costly process that he never imagined he would have to endure.

Garrett said in some cases the fraudsters benefit from turning family members against one another. For this reason, it’s possible that they are targeting properties with several owners.

“They assume someone in the family did it, which isn’t the case usually,” Garrett said.

Shirley Gibson, 86, said a fraudster targeted her properties in Miami-Dade County. (Copyright 2020 by WPLG - All rights reserved.)

Shirley Gibson, 86, understands Garrett’s situation well.

Her property is in the historic Charles Avenue of Miami’s West Grove neighborhood. The area is home to descendants of Black Bahamian settlers who arrived in the 1880′s by way of Kest West.

“Someone is targeting me,” Gibson said, adding “I’m not selling any of my properties.”

A fraudster stole her properties with forged deeds and is trying to sell them. The listings are online. She realized what was happening only after she showed up to pay the annual tax bill.

Records show the fraudster used a shell corporation that is linked to a residential neighborhood in New York. Mohamed Chraibi, the licensed notary who signed the illegal deed, is nowhere to be found.

Both Gibson’s and Garrett’s cases are pending. In some cases, title insurance companies protect owners from losses attributed to forged deeds by payment or by filing a quiet title lawsuit to clarify the ownership of a given property.

Lifelock recommends regularly monitoring credit reports, the status of the property deed, and buying a title insurance policy. The experts also listed three warning signs of deed fraud:

  1. Unpaid bills: Not receiving a water bill or a tax bill could be a red flag.
  2. Notice of foreclosure: This could mean there is a fraudulent loan.
  3. Signs of life: Evidence of new activity.

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About the Authors:

Terrell Forney joined Local 10 News in October 2005 as a general assignment reporter. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, but a desire to escape the harsh winters of the north brought him to South Florida.

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.