Gale Bennett

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Last year, the state of Florida ranked in the top 10 for incidents of elder fraud, costing Floridians nearly $300M in losses.

Gale Bennett

Gale Bennett, a 70-year-old disabled U.S. Air Force veteran, could no longer keep up with her mortgage payments. She started looking for ways to sell her house and stumbled upon a cash-for-home company offering a great deal. After a quick 10-minute phone call with a company representative, Gale agreed to sign an electronic Standard Sales and Purchase Agreement for the sale of her home. Little did she know she had fallen prey to a scam... 

After signing the agreement, Gale began to search for homes she could better afford but soon learned her credit score would prevent her from qualifying for a new mortgage. Her best option was to remain in her current residence. She called the cash-for-home company to cancel the agreement and felt that the issue was closed.

What Gale did not realize was that the agreement she’d signed had been drafted in a manner that left her with no right to cancel, nor was she provided with clear documentation as to how much money she would actually receive from the sale.

Three days passed. “Then came July 29th. I will never forget that day,” Gale recounted. “I was sitting at home and someone came to my door and issued me a summons.” The scammers had filed an action against Gale, ordering her to fulfill the terms of the contract. “I took it and went inside crying,” she said. “I didn’t know what to think. I had nightmares of people coming to my house and telling me I had to get out. I had nowhere to go. It was horrible.”

Gale knew she needed to fix the situation immediately. She contacted the VA, who put her in touch with Bay Area Legal Services, and Maria Ceballos-Zagales, Staff Attorney of the Major General Ernest A. and Marilyn Bedke Veterans Law Center, quickly took on her case. 

It didn’t take long for Maria to discover that this company had been filing the same types of actions against an array of homeowners who had signed the same agreement. Unfortunately, the scam had previously been successful in court because targeted clients did not have legal representation, so their homes had been seized by default judgments.

“Senior citizens in Florida are falling victim to deceitful scams targeting them with ambiguous, one-sided electronic contracts,” said Maria. “These contracts are sprung upon them without adequate time for clients to read, understand, or question them. The ulterior motive behind these schemes is to force them out of their homes for a fraction of their homes’ actual value. Tragically, this often leaves seniors homeless or unable to afford a secure living environment. Yet one more reason we must work to better protect the most vulnerable in our state.” 

After weeks of research in conjunction with her legal team, Maria successfully made her argument in court. Thanks to her impassioned advocacy, the case was dismissed, sparing Gale from homelessness. 

Gale was then able to work with a real estate agent of her choice and sold her home for an appropriate market price. 

[Maria] saved my life. I would have lost my house because I have no money to pay for an attorney. I’m just thankful that Bay Area Legal Services was there for me.”

Gale Bennett

Gale Bennett

Client of the Veterans Law Center

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