ATLANTA — An Atlanta woman wants to warn homeowners after she says someone stole her deed.
She told Channel 2 investigative reporter Ashli Lincoln that she had no idea this had happened until her home was torn down.
Linda Willis says her home in Old Fourth Ward was targeted by strangers because of the prime location of where her home once stood on Ralph McGill Blvd.
“This is a historical area, this is why you would buy over here,” Linda Willis said.
Linda Willis said she intended to own the home she bought in 1990 for the rest of her life.
“This is a sad day. After 30 years of paying a mortgage, it has become dangerous to be a senior and own gentrified urban property,” she said.
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Back in November, Linda Willis says she arrived to home to find a bulldozer in her front yard tearing down her home.
“I went to the crane operator and said, ‘Who gave you permission to tear down my property?,’” she said.
The operator told her that he had been hired by a company who recently bought the home from a woman named Cencera Willis.
The problem, according to Linda Willis, is that she never put her home up for sale and had no idea who Cencera Willis was.
Lincoln obtained documents from the Fulton County Probate Court showing Cencera Willis filed to be administrator over Linda Willis’ property last year, appointing her deceased mother who just so happened to have the same name as Linda Willis.
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Real estate attorney Rick Alembik says they are seeing a significant uptick in deed fraud cases, specifically in areas where gentrification is taking place.
“A lot of ways these fraudulent deeds are done, is by people who steal,” Alembik told Lincoln. “The extent in which it’s reported is probably under-reported, but we’re seeing it, we’re seeing more of it.”
Alembik says these scams typically target homes that are paid off.
“It’s easiest when you have a property that’s not incumbent by a mortgage,” he explained.
He says homes that appear abandoned and boarded up also becomes prime targets.
This isn’t the case for Linda Willis, though. Her house was paid off, but was boarded up only because of minor damage from a fire.
“The people who want to buy your property, they don’t just stop at no,” Alembik said.
The attorney also explained that homeowners with common names, like Linda, are also more likely to be targeted.
Lincoln reached out to Cencera Willis, but she wouldn’t comment.
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Alembik said there are a few ways to help protect your property: set up a doorbell camera, register your home with a fraud registry with your area municipality or take out a reverse mortgage.
“All that we have had to go through, to be able to have a right, to be able to own this little stash of dirt and you’re going to steal my property,” Linda Willis said.
If this happens to you, quickly file a police report and hire a real estate attorney to try to stop the individuals from selling the property to an innocent buyer.
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