Five Tips For Avoiding Real Estate Scam Artists In Miami-Dade County

​Yesterday, law enforcement officials finally busted the criminals behind one of the most brazen real estate scams in the state that has the second-most cases of mortgage fraud in America. Ayda Young, Yohany Garcia, Zoraida Abreu and Johnny Bou-Nassar were criminally charged in a multiple-count racketeering and grand theft indictment for stealing $2.4 million from 15 victims. After thoroughly reading the indictment, Banana Republican is amazed by the sheer audacity of the racket and the grand stupidity of its victims.

It's incredible what people are willing to believe when they want to play real life Monopoly. So we've got five tips for you folks out there who want to drop thousands of dollars on get-rich-quick real estate deals:

5. Use Google Earth for crissakes!
Had any of the victims bothered to search 27871 S. Dixie Highway -- the purported address to Miami-Dade County Short Sales, the bogus company set up by the thieves to conduct the fraudulent scheme -- they would have found a 20-year-old barber shop inside a nondescript shopping center in Naranja.

4. Casinos are for degenerate gamblers, not real estate professionals.
According to the indictment, Garcia found one of her victims after befriending his chauffeur, whom she met while gambling at the Miccosukee casino, where prosecutors allege the scam gang spent most of the money they stole.

3. Fast food restaurant parking lots are ideal for copping dime bags, but not for closing on a house.
In the parking lot of a Wendy's on Oct. 2, 2009, one of the victims, Martha Martinez, handed over two checks totaling $15,757 to an unknown male who had been sent by Garcia. The funds were supposed to be used to buy a house in West Miami. Martinez gave Garcia approximately $60,000 for three different properties.

2. If you get a refund from the scammer, take your money and run!
During a face-to-face meeting one day in May of 2010, Martinez was able to get back $28,000 from Garcia after months of waiting for the non existent property sales to go through. The refund was short-lived. Instead of sending the scam artist packing, the victim hung out with Garcia for a few more hours. After once again convincing Martinez the transactions were legitimate, Garcia left with the $28,000 plus an additional $5,000.

1. The Miami-Dade County Clerk's website is your friend.
Before laying out any cash for an investment property in our sunny place for shady people, pay an online visit to the clerk's web-site. A cursory search on the criminal case database would have informed the victims about Garcia's prior convictions for insurance fraud and fraudulently obtaining someone else's income tax return refund. Young has been convicted for running scams too, including the sale of fake collector coins at jacked up prices. Plus, you can also verify if there are any liens or pending foreclosures on a property you're intending to purchase.

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Francisco Alvarado was born in Nicaragua and grew up in Miami, giving him unique insight into the Magic City and all its dark corners. An investigative reporter with a knack for uncovering corruption, Alvarado made his bones as a staff writer at Miami New Times and remains in dogged pursuit of the next juicy story.