NEW ORLEANS — Title fraud has become big business in the New Orleans area.
So much so, local clerks of court are rolling out fraud alert systems to crack down on the crime.
The programs seek to help prevent the type of real estate scam that cost a New Orleans man the house he and his late mother owned in the Bywater.
“I just can’t explain it because it’s unbelievable,” Derrick Breston said. “Not in my wildest nightmare I would ever dream something like this would happen.”
Breston and his mother owned a small home on Royal Street for nearly 30 years.
After his mother Madeliene Simon passed away 5 years ago, he was renovating the property as his retirement home.
But on Oct. 13, 2020, Breston says someone walked into the New Orleans Civil District Court, Clerk of Court’s office with a dummied-up document and a $135 filing fee and sold his house out from under him.
“It just breaks me down,” Breston said. “I don’t know whether to fall out. I just don’t know what to do. This just brings back all the memories of me working on this house and having this house.”
A document known as a quitclaim deed turned over the ownership of the home to someone else.
It appears to be a fake from top to bottom.
Breston says his signature was forged. He showed us his signature and it doesn’t match the one on the form.
Breston also said there’s no way his mother could have signed it because she had been dead for two years.
The deed was supposedly notarized at the Mail and Copy Center in Gentilly.
Robert Schmidt said someone copied his notary stamp and forged his name on the document.
“They did a pretty poor job of forging my signature,” Schmidt said. “It looks like a bad scribble version of my signature.”
Schmidt also said he generally uses people who work at his shop to witness document signings. He didn’t know the witnesses listed on the quitclaim deed form.
“This is your typical theft of a property by forged documents.” Schmidt said.
This week, Jefferson Parish launched a title fraud notification system to help prevent this kind of real estate scam.
JP Clerk of Court Jon Gegenheimer said property owners who opt into the program will get an email alert when a document bearing the owner’s personal or business name and/or relating to their property is recorded in the parish,
“This is a pre-emptive strike,” Gegenheimer said. “We don’t want to be reactive. We want to be proactive and that’s what this is. It gives the property owners and extra layer of protection.”
A similar alert system is also in place in St. Tammany Parish.
Back on Royal Street, Breston says he is now fighting in court to get back his home.
“I feel duped. I feel heartbroken. I’m distressed. I done depleted my accounts, my retirement accounts trying to obtain lawyers to try and save my house.”
Breston said he hopes Orleans will get a real estate alert system like the ones in the other parishes.
Clerk of Court Chelsey Napoleon told WWL-TV, her office is in the process of developing one. She hopes to have it online in the coming months.