MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A woman found out her property in a South Memphis neighborhood was no longer in her name after someone reportedly forged her signature and took ownership.
WREG’s investigator Jessica Gertler found out it’s easy to do and hard to fight.
The pink and brick building on South Parkway holds meaning to Jo Dyson. She’s had it since 1966, and inherited it from family.
Dyson wanted to finally do something with it last summer — or so she hoped. Dyson’s property, in the family for decades, no longer belongs to her.
“When I got ready to do some work and do some things to it, I found out it wasn’t in my name,” she said. “I did what? I sold my property? No I didn’t.”
Dyson says without her knowledge, someone went to the Shelby County Register of Deeds office in March 2020 and handed over a quit claim deed, which is a fast way to transfer property.
The form must be downloaded, printed, filled out with certain information like the legal description, property owner and property address, and it must be notarized.
County Register Shelandra Ford said that, per state law, if a form looks fraudulent or a signature doesn’t look right, they cannot ask for an ID or do anything about it.
“If the document meets all the state requirements, then we have no other choice but to file the deed and entry within our office,” Ford said.
In Dyson’s case, the form was processed even though she says it’s not her writing, nor her signature.
The woman who notarized the deed, Joyce Branch, couldn’t say it was Dyson’s signature either. She didn’t know any of the people on the document, she said.
Branch said a family member asked her to notarize some paperwork, so he could buy some land. She admitted she notarized the deed before names or signatures were on it — despite that being against the law.
Branch said the man who brought it to her told her he was going to fill it out.
“I explained to him that my name is on this. This is a legal document. Don’t put nobody else’s name on there,” she said. “Guess he must have sold them to somebody else. Which, I explained to him that nobody’s name is supposed to be on those papers but your name.”
Branch’s notary license has since expired. She told us she never met the man, Charlie Allen, listed on the quit claim deed.
We haven’t been able to find Allen for his side of the story. Dyson said Allen was involved in a murder on November 25. Police confirmed a person named Charlie Allen was killed, but we have not been able to confirm it’s the same person.
What we do know is that on November 11, Allen quit claimed the property to a woman, who then quit claimed it a month later to Lacy Collins.
We went to multiple addresses listed under Collins’ name but no one answered the door.
Dyson said she contacted Memphis Police and filed a report. She also had to hire an attorney to help prove this property is hers and get a no tresspassing order to make sure nothing else happens to it.
‘The law needs to change’
“The law needs to change. Something needs to be done,” said Dyson.
Tennessee state Rep. Antonio Parkinson said he would review it.
“This is unbelievable actually, to me, when you told me what was happening. Honestly, it was mind blowing,” he said.
Parkinson said he started researching ways to give the register’s office more authority to verify property filings like allowing them to check an ID or adding a two-step authentication before a change is made to a property.
State Rep. G.A. Hardaway said he’s also working with the register’s office and other groups to come up with a strategy that includes increasing penalties and awareness.
“We also got to make it possible for the funding and the authority to be in place for the clerk’s to catch it on the front end before it gets flipped two, three, four times,” Hardaway said.
In the meantime, the register’s office launched a fraud program, where an owner can sign up to get email alerts when any new document — like a quit claim deed — is recorded.
But the office can’t stop it from being filed. You would have to notify authorities, and then fight in court like Dyson is currently doing.
“I’m having to spend money over and over,” Dyson said. “Each time it changes hands, we have to get new papers adding another person.”
The register’s office admits fraud is on the rise but couldn’t say how many of the nearly 34,000 property transfers last year were later called into question.
MPD said the case remains under investigation.
Find out more
Thursday morning from 10 until 11, the register’s office will hold a virtual town hall meeting on fraudulent deed filings and will talk about other ways to keep your property safe. Parkinson and Hardaway, along with Property Assessor Melvin Burgess and attorney Ursula Woods will speak.
To join, click this link or dial in from your phone to (408) 650-3123, access code 794-003-437.