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Missing Seniors and the Real Estate Scam

It’s shocking how much can happen over the course of two weeks. These last two weeks in my life have been highly stressful and emotional, and it all went down with a single phone call.

 

The Phone Call

 

On Monday, June 26, 2017, I began receiving numerous phone calls and text messages from someone asking if I knew a Brenda Gibson. Not recognizing the number, I was hesitant to answer but the person kept persisting. Finally that evening, I texted the number back asking, “Who are you and what do you want?” I received an immediate reply of, “This is Zohar. Do you know Brenda Gibson?” My first thought: What the fuck is a Zohar? I replied, “That is my estranged mother.” After a pause, the phone rang, the caller ID the same number.

 

Upon speaking with this Zohar, he informed me that he was a real estate broker and had seen a listing of a house up for auction. The address he gave me was the house I grew up in down in Fort Lauderdale. He informed me that he was trying to locate my mother and grandmother, whose name was listed as the owner, because the house had been foreclosed and was going to auction the next morning at 10 a.m. He also said he’d interviewed the neighbors who said they hadn’t seen either of them in at least a year.

 

As I was trying to process all this information, he also informed me that neither party could be located and told me I had 16 hours to locate both my mother, the owner, and my mother, her power of attorney. Not only that, I had to be in Fort Lauderdale at 10 a.m. to appear in court and stop the sale so that he could buy the home, refurbish it, and re-sell it, allegedly to split the profits with my mother and grandmother. This guy immediately threw my red flags up as being an underhanded real estate shark looking to prey on the elderly.

 

I told him first of all, I do not live in the area so there is no way I am jeopardizing my job to take off, go out of town, and go to court on the word of someone I have never even heard of. I asked him to provide me any proof of what he was claiming and he did not provide any, only further pushing me to do the impossible within just a few hours time. This utterly pissed me off and I hung up on him, beginning my own research.

 

The Search

 

The first thing I did was to look up this person who called. All I had was a first name and a phone number, which turned up a real estate sales license to a Zohar Gazit with a home office in Hallandale, FL. The license was only issued at the end of May this year, so that was another red flag. His phone number also came back as a Google Voice number. Red flag #3. He’s also associated with a relatively new LLC called Florida State Trust LLC, Premier Mortgage Lending (as a sales person, which is where the Google Voice number answers), as well as President of Nahar Investment Corp. There are eight company associations altogether, the most recent being formed only 5 months ago.

 

Putting this agency/broker to the side, I then called on a friend in my grandmother’s area to help me do some research. We turned up the auction listing and other documents, including an affidavit from the foreclosing bank’s attorney in which they hired a process server to locate and serve my grandmother the foreclosure papers however the statement from December 2016 showed she could not be located and her death could not be verified. So there was one mystery. The second mystery is that my mother was afraid to leave the house and did not go out, so where could she be? I knew she was diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, so the first place I started checking was area hospitals, none of which would confirm her presence. Next, I tried assisted living facilities, psychiatric facilities, and hospices for both women, and still came up with nothing.

 

After the area facilities were exhausted, I moved on to the Broward Sheriff’s Office. I received a response e-mail from them advising me to reach out to one of two contacts, which I called the next morning. To my utter shock, the Lieutenant told me he couldn’t file a missing person’s report because it had “been too long” since they were last seen. Since when does that matter? I told him these were two seniors, both mentally and physically disabled, and were MISSING since their home got foreclosed a year ago. He said all he could do was run their names through a database but he wouldn’t file a missing person’s report. I still can’t believe how uncaring he was but for my own protection, I will not give his name here.

 

On to some better resources I hoped, I also reached out to the Sun Sentinel and Channel 7 News, neither of which ever responded to me. I then reached out to numerous elder-centered organizations in the area and left voice mail after voice mail, as I was trying to do all this research outside my working hours, which left me very limited in actually reaching offices that were open after I got off work.

 

Dead Ends

 

I was not getting anywhere. The time for the auction had come and gone and the house was sold to the highest bidder. Along with the house, everything in it, including 60 years of family history, now belonged to a corporation who purchased it to flip it and make some quick money. I thought my dealings with Zohar were over at that point, but this was only the beginning.

 

Zohar placed several calls to me that day with a new plan: Find my grandmother, get a lawyer, declare the sale invalid because there was now an heir, let him buy the house, flip it, and split the profits with me. He said he was going to send me a contract of our “partnership” that I should sign and overnight to him. More deadlines, he needed this done right away. Needless to say, no contract ever showed up.

 

When questioned about this alleged contract, he changed his story again, saying he was going to have his associate “Richard” draw up a contract, drive it up to me, have me sign it and get it notarized, and drive it back down to him. We’re talking a 4 hour round trip and I work during the day. I thought: Who in their right mind does business like that? I told them both on the phone if you’re sending me anything, just send a PDF that can be signed electronically. Why would they go through all that trouble when e-mail is instant and secure? Another red flag. Zohar then wanted a copy of my ID to “verify my identity.” Hah – NO. Sorry, but NO. Another red flag.

 

Once again, no paperwork arrived. I still couldn’t get any information out of Zohar, including any attorney information or Richard’s last name or phone number. So for the third or fourth time, Zohar’s story changes and now he tells me that this Richard associate of his has secured an attorney who specializes in foreclosures and probate and that this attorney would work the case on contingency, requiring zero funds from me and that Zohar would pay for everything needed to have the house put in my name as heir and that we would not split the proceeds of the flip between Zohar, myself, and the attorney. Um…. it doesn’t work that way. Again, I was waiting for an e-mail from the attorney and again, no documents ever arrived. Are we surprised?

 

At this point, I’m done with Zohar and I just want to find my grandmother. I accept that the house is gone. It’s not the first time I’ve lost everything and my mother and grandmother had no way to upkeep the house anyway, as it needed too many major repairs, including electrical, plumbing, and roofing. My mother and I have never had a relationship and in her last letter to me, she blatantly told me never to contact her again (this is all over my being close to my father and their own personal issues that she cannot separate me from). So, all that remained was finding my grandmother.

 

The break came the next Friday morning, July 7. I received a call from the Aging and Disabled Resource Center. They were more than willing to help me and within just a few minutes, they were able to provide me with both my mother’s and my grandmother’s forwarding addresses and contact numbers. Their last known addresses showed that my mother was in assisted living in Lauderhill and my grandmother was in a nursing home in Tamarac. This is odd because it’s the first time in their lives that they’ve been separated. My friend called both places while I was at work (silently freaking out), and let me know on my next break that she was able to verify both of them at the locations given. She even provided some additional information.

 

I immediately called both places and asked to be put on their emergency contact lists. I then was able to speak with my grandmother by phone who, even at 89 years old and after several years, still remembered me and my daughter and wanted to see us. Heartbreakingly, she informed me she had lung cancer and had been in the nursing facility for a year. The good news is her mind is still sharp as a tack and she only has little lapses of short term memory loss now and then. Otherwise, she’s mentally good.

 

She also told me that people were there in her room to talk to her about the house. Now this was a real red flag. Regrettably, I’d given both their forwarding addresses to Zohar under the stretch of an idea that he actually was going to do something to reverse the sale. He knew however that my mother was my grandmother’s power of attorney and that my grandmother could not deal with any of this on her own. Within two hours of having the address, people were there in person harassing and confusing my grandmother before I’d have a chance to get down there. I sent Zohar a text and a voice mail and got no response.

 

The Reunion

 

Saturday morning, July 8, my daughter and I along with my sister in law began the two hour drive to my grandmother’s nursing home. Once we got there, she recognized us instantly and we spend 3 hours talking with her. She caught us up on what was happening with my mother, who was not there at the time, but she was unable to tell me who was in her room yesterday about the house. I hope she didn’t sign anything – she doesn’t remember.

 

This all goes back to Zohar because he is the ONLY other person who had her address. Currently, I am drafting a formal request to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Division of Real Estate with a full account of the situation, his associates, his associated companies, and his license number to be investigated and prosecuted in the attempt to defraud my elderly grandmother by bypassing her power of attorney and her heirs regarding the foreclosed home that she owned since circa 1960. I also have my own legal support system involved, so this will be done right. To date, he still has not returned any phone call, text, or e-mail but I am following this matter very closely. I vow to protect my grandmother against underhanded dealings by any means necessary.

 

Are You OK?

A while back, I came across a blog entry via Twitter that brought attention to an Australian social campaign called R U OK? It promotes starting conversations to let people know that they are cared about and to help them voice things that are not OK in their lives so that help can be provided before a situation becomes a crisis. It’s a beautifully simple concept really, and one that could realistically save a life.

This morning, I was reminded of this campaign as I was sitting on my front step waking up with a cup of coffee. This is a small community so most people know each other. When a car drove up slowly into my neighbor’s driveway, I noticed it of course but did not think much of it until the door opened and no one got out. The elderly man in the driver’s seat sat there for a few minutes and then put his head down, chin-to-chest, occasionally looking around then putting his head back down for a couple minutes. From this angle, he was acting as I’ve seen people with dementia act when they are confused, not knowing quite where they are or why.

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Alarmed, I got up but he picked his head back up and reached for something in his car. He seemed OK for the moment but I kept watching. After a few minutes of him just sitting there, his head began to sink again, so I went inside to get my phone in case I needed to call anyone. I headed over to his car and quietly asked him, “Are you OK?”

Startled, he jumped and stared at me for a moment before angrily telling me, “I’m napping!” The tone of voice made me take a step back and apologize, telling him I didn’t know if he needed help and I was just checking on him. He nodded then, and turned to put his head back down.

Since this was not anyone who lived there or anyone I had ever seen, I kept watch from my front step for about 10 minutes longer. Finally, he got out of the car and slowly made it to the front door where my neighbors apparently knew him and they helped him in. I apologized for startling him and was thanked with a smile and a wave that communicated to me, “It’s OK.”

Even though everything was OK this time, there may be a time that someone does really need help. The responsibility falls on all of us to be aware of the situations around us and to be proactive, asking even a total stranger… “Are you OK?”

Two Hours

In response to: The Daily Post: Daily Prompt – Good Fences

In two hours, I will be relocating again.  Not far this time, but also not into the best area.  Today brings another “adventure” of clearing out my car, loading it up, moving belongings, unloading it, trying to organize my life – again.  And the cats… my God the cats hate moving.  There is a dog and two other cats in the new place.  Mine will be kept in my room for the time being as introductions to other animals are usually long and painful.  My big boy, he growls like a dog at anything he senses but can’t see.

Today brings a world without Internet for at least four days, as they can’t come out to connect it until Tuesday night and even then, with everything the house is going through, there might be issues in finding or installing lines and outlets.  I will be connecting minimally through the 4G on my phone and likely transcribing blog posts on the tiny virtual keyboard.  Tonight brings another night of trying to fall asleep in a new place, around new people. It’s sort of like a one-building commune type living situation.  The lady I’m moving in with is nice and she’s gone all out to make a comfortable space for me. Two others live there, her son and another man. I’m not terribly comfortable around men, but she’s given me the only bedroom with a door and a lock on it. The rest of the rooms – including the bathroom – as yet only have parted together drywall and blankets up for walls and doors.  The house is in a perpetual state of remodel, as it used to be a two-bedroom and has been gutted to be reconfigured into a four-bedroom. Rooms are now TINY.  However with all the loss that my life has seen over the past 14 months (actually over the past decade), my belongings have been reduced to only what I can fit in my car – and most not by choice.  Goodbye three bedroom house that Hurricane Frances took years ago – hello continued poverty.

This weekend also brings trying to get used to a new neighborhood, new people, new surroundings.  It doesn’t give the appearance of a neighborhood I’d want to walk around in alone.  It’s… older.  It’s pretty run down. It’s also surrounded by three major colleges, two within walking distance.  It reminds me of the projects in which I landed after my divorce in 2005.  Here, like there, I will have to make friends fast if I’m going to survive.  When I was in the projects in Fort Pierce, I immediately took to an elderly lady next door who everyone just called “Granny.”  Granny had been in that little house most of her 80+ years.  Everyone knew her and no one messed with her.  She looked after me the three years I stayed there and even after moving into a better place, my daughter and I still went back to visit her often.  She would always marvel at how big my daughter had gotten since the last time she saw her, even if it had only been a month between visits.  Granny was the best neighbor I have ever had.  I’m praying that my surroundings, while rough on first glance, will prove friendly enough that I don’t have to worry about the safety of myself or my belongings.