Fraud in real estate is a very big deal. Based on our Santa Fe Association of Realtors MLS statistics, in 2019 total sales in all property classifications were reported to be $1,640,316,700. That’s a huge number and easy to understand why it would draw attention from scammers, grifters, cyber thieves, and nefarious types.
Real-estate brokers can be easy targets for grifters. Many years back, a flashy buyer contacted a broker about his $3 million listing. The broker showed the home to whom he believed to be a very affluent and well-qualified buyer. After a successful showing, the buyer expressed that he was very serious about the home and asked the broker to represent him on the purchase. The listing broker could not believe his luck and the dollar signs were quickly adding up. But the buyer went on to say that he needed to be certain about the house and spend the night there.
The broker presumably obtained the seller’s permission and left the buyer there with the understanding that they would touch base in the morning to move ahead with an offer. When the broker left, this devious scammer called the auto dealership and asked for the latest, greatest car to be delivered. The salesperson, recognizing the ritzy address, agreed and brought the car for the guy to test drive. The scammer showed the salesperson the new home he had just purchased and told the salesperson that the wife would be in next week and he would be buying not one, but two cars.
The salesperson could not believe his good fortune. But the time was getting late and the banks had closed for the day. Would he mind just leaving the car and his bank would be in touch tomorrow morning with payment? You can guess what happened after that. The next morning, the buyer was gone along with the fancy new car.
Recently, there was an influx of outside buyers to U.S. markets. You would see these multi-million-dollar sales on the HGTV shows where the buyer never appeared; it was just subordinates with cell phones making big deals. Meanwhile, in lots of small towns across the county, scammers were emailing brokers about their listings. We received an email from one buyer who had been in Santa Fe and loved it. He saw our listing online and he wanted to buy it sight unseen. We were alerted to the high probability of a scam and through careful questions and background checks, the buyer disappeared.
A short time later we did hear about a “sale” that happened elsewhere in the state. An outside buyer, a site-unseen sale, and everything set up electronically. At closing, the buyer overnighted a cashier’s check for the purchase amount, but it was about $20,000 over. The title company saw the error and talked to the buyer and it was agreed that the title company would wire the overage back to the buyer. The “closing” occurred and the wire went out and it was discovered a week later that the cashier’s check was fraudulent. The contact information for the buyer was defunct and the bank account the wire had been sent to was closed with no forwarding information.
Today’s cyber criminals have so much information via the internet to aid them in their dirty dealings. The New Mexico Association of Realtors has a form that we require all parties in a real-estate transaction to sign, which acknowledges the prevalent email scams that have occurred over the last few years. Fraudsters may be following your house for sale online and could send you a phony email that appears to come from your title company or a lender or your broker asking for sensitive information. Do not send anything like banking account information or social security numbers in response to an email. Most title companies and lenders use encryption email systems to guard against such fraud, but everyone should always be on the lookout.
Craigslist has become a haven for cons. Photos are taken from websites like Zillow and Trulia and are used to create fake property ads for rent or sale. These criminals do their research and even present themselves to be the actual owner of record. A typical scenario is a property is offered for rent at a price well below market. The contact is an email and the prospective renter is told that the owner no longer lives in the state. The victim is directed to send $50 via Paypal or Vimeo and the owner will overnight a key. These are scams! In tight rental markets, some will try to secure a deposit and cheat you out of $1,000 as a security hold, first-to-pay, first-to-rent-type scenario. Beware!
As the housing market becomes tighter and tighter and people become more desperate to find housing the more creative and more opportunity for cybercrime and fraud. Brokers will never ask you for personal information. Title companies and lenders may and the best way to be sure you are not going to fall prey to a con is to call and verify the person on the other side of the email or make an appointment and see them in person. Stay vigilant and smart and don’t get swindled!
Roger and Melissa are longtime Realtors serving both buyers and sellers. Melissa is a past president of the Santa Fe Association of Realtors and Roger is currently serving as the first vice president. They can be reached at 505-699-3112 or email@example.com or visit them online at carsonandcarson.com