Real Estate Wire Fraud
Purchasing real estate in a digital age comes with challenges. Recently, we have been alerted to stories of scammers masking emails to appear as banks or title companies. These criminals send fraudulent instructions to home purchasers asking for money to be wired for closings. Make certain that the wiring information that you receive for your real estate transaction is truly coming from a real estate title company. Never send money without first speaking with the title company by telephone. If in doubt, call your Realtor or lender you are working with. There have been too many instances of buyer’s sending their closing funds overseas, losing their cash and not being able to close on their home.
Why Real Estate Scams Work…. Beware of Real Estate Scams!
We live in a digital age. Today, everybody likes the convenience of shopping online. That convenience however, comes with risk! As consumers, we must be cautious when conducting transactions over the internet. Not everyone on the internet is who they claim to be. Sophisticated scammers are masters at disguising themselves as someone else. Counterfeit emails look very convincing. It does not take much for a sophisticated scammer to portray that they are authentic. Before you send money or give your personal information to anyone, make certain you are communicating to the proper person. We have heard of unsuspecting victims electronically placing hundreds of thousands of dollars into the bank accounts of scam artists. For your protection, do some research to assure you are sending payments to the right person. Scams are prevalent with criminals disguising themselves as landlords, banks, and property owners.
In order to protect yourself, I’d like to share with you an example of how a rental scam works, and how to identify a scam before you become a victim. Earlier this year we had a vacant home listed for sale and our for sale sign was in front of it. A third-party scam artist, claiming to be the owner, placed an ad on Craigslist. The scammer advertised the home for rent at a very reasonable rate. Perspective tenants jumped at the chance to be able to rent a home. The unsuspecting tenants replied to the email on the Craigslist ad. In the email, prospective tenants thought they were communicating with the homeowner. Communications were conducted by email only. The imposter owner claimed that while the home was listed for sale, she was taking the property off the market and would be renting it instead. The imposter claimed that she could not communicate by telephone because she was not allowed to be on the phone at her new “out of state” job. The scammer asked that the prospective tenant send money to them by Western Union. Luckily one of the prospective tenants called Rachel to verify that the property was indeed for rent. She immediately contacted the owner who explained that she was not planning to rent the home. To prevent others from being swindled, we immediately put signs up inside the windows of the home stating that the property was not for rent.
Be cautious who you are renting from. Be diligent when sending payments that you know you are indeed sending money to the proper owner. These scams are also prevalent with banking transactions as well as vacation rentals. For this reason avoid sending payment by Western Union, Walmart2Walmart, wire transfer or other direct payment methods. Once your money is sent by these methods, it is nearly impossible to recover it. Before sending payment on a property, always be certain to check and investigate that the person claiming to the owner is truly the owner of the property. Due diligence is necessary to make sure you don't send thousands of dollars to someone who has no legal interest in the property.
Prosecuting the scammers becomes impossible. Especially when payments are sent across state lines. Internet fraud is very difficult for law-enforcement to track, so here are some key points to remember. Never send money for a real estate transaction unless you're absolutely certain the party you were sending money to is correct. Pick up the phone. Ask questions, and remember, if an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is!