Weeks after Cristina Arce and her husband bought a house in Balch Springs, they were in for a surprise: A woman they had never met claimed she was the real owner and said she had never sold the property.
Now, both the Arces and a woman named Delta Oldifield are claiming title to the house.
"My house was stolen without me knowing, that would be a true statement,” said Oldfield, who said she had lived in the house for more than 30 years before she moved out several years ago to take care of her ill parents.
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Oldfield's son drove by the home one day over the summer and noticed someone had moved into the home.
"He went to the mailbox,” Oldfield said. “He found other people's mail in there."
The locks were also changed, she said.
Arce and her husband said they bought the house in good faith at what they thought was a bargain price -- $38,000 cash. They said they spent $15,000 and countless hours renovating the house before they learned the ownership was in dispute.
NBC 5 Investigates reviewed county records.
They documents show Delta Oldfield owned the house until May 23 when she signed over the title to a company called J and J #1. Oldfield said the document is a fake and the signature was not hers.
“Not even close,” she said.
Documents also show J and J #1 briefly transferred the title to a second company.
J and J was owned by Edith Garcia of Mesquite. She is the same woman Arce sold her the house and met her at the records building.
Mesquite police arrested Garcia on a charge of forgery for allegedly faking Oldfield's signature on the title papers and she was booked into jail before being released on bond.
Arce said Garcia took her $38,000 cashier's check for the house and hasn't seen her since.
"Edith left with the money right away,” Arce said.
In a short telephone interview with NBC 5 Investigates, Garcia said she wasn't involved in the sale of the house and denied she had been arrested.
Now, it's unclear what happens to the ownership of the house.
“Right now, we are the legal owners,” Arce said.
"Legally, they own the house. I mean, legally," she said, adding “I never sold it.”
Arce said she never doubted the sale was legitimate.
"We bought it fair and square. We paid for it,” she said. "We are both victims. And I'm sorry for her loss. She lost the house and has no money for it. She has no house and no money.”
Oldfield said the worst part for her was that her family photos and other items she was keeping inside the house are gone. The Arces said the house was empty when they bought it.
"I lost my mom and my dad within 16 months of each other,” Oldfield said. “I was filled with grief and filled with sadness. And then when you think of all the things you've had, of every memory, of my son as a child, it's all gone now too."
Dallas County Clerk John Warren said his staff tries to identify forged documents but cannot verify every signature on every document.
"You can actually go online to look at the piece of property or look at the document filed to see if it's you or not you,” Warren said. “That's a service that's offered free to the public that I encourage them to take advantage of."
He added property fraud is more common than most people think. In the Balch Springs case, the title transfer document appeared to be notarized.
Warren said homeowners can sign up on a website, www.propertyfraudalert.com, to be notified by email if anyone files documents in their name.
Oldfield said she wishes she had signed up.
“If I had done that, I wouldn’t be in this situation,” she said.
Meanwhile, the status of the house in Balch Springs could get even more complicated. The Arces said a lawyer told them they could sell the house, and they are trying.