The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center has raised alarms about the increasing losses from real estate and rental scams, with a staggering $396 million reported last year alone. Vacant lands, in particular, have become the new hunting ground for these fraudsters. According to Charlie Lee, the senior counsel and director of legal affairs at the National Association of REALTORS®, scammers are diving deep into public records, pinpointing vacant properties or those without any mortgage or lien.
Posing as landowners, these scammers convince real estate agents to list their property, dangling tempting offers that seem too lucrative to refuse. For instance, the ‘seller’ proposes a price below the market rate, ensuring it piques interest and sparks rapid sales, preferably cash ones.
But there’s a darker side to this tale. Victor Petrescu, a seasoned real estate attorney, highlights the alarming rise of “title pirates.” These culprits craft forged deeds and other sham documents to wrongfully claim a property’s title. In numerous instances, the scam remains unnoticed until vast sums are already transferred to these con artists. By then, what remains is a tangle of complications for the actual owners and the real estate intermediaries.
Being forewarned is forearmed. Charlie Lee underscores specific telltale signs that should immediately raise suspicions:
For real estate professionals, due diligence is non-negotiable. Here are some measures to ensure the person on the other end is genuine:
Finally, before any money changes hands, ensure the seller can produce a voided check accompanied by a disbursement authorization form.
In an era where scams are ever-evolving, staying informed and vigilant is the best line of defense for real estate professionals and buyers alike.