BOCA RATON, Fla. — A Boca Raton real estate broker almost lost $200,000 in a fake property deed scam involving vacant land in Deerfield Beach.
It happened Sept. 10. That’s when Marshall Sklar, a real estate broker in Boca Raton, realized something went horribly wrong with a sale he closed earlier that week for a vacant property in Deerfield Beach.
“We got a message from some woman claiming my property was stolen,” Sklar said. “Right away, we looked at our file and we noticed that the contact information, the wiring information and the actual recipient of the wire wasn’t the name of the seller of the property.”
Luckily, the real owner of the property signed up for property fraud alerts using the Palm Beach County clerk’s website. That will alert land and homeowners if somebody is trying to use their identity to sell their property.
“She was telling us this whole story about how she got an alert that her property was transferred without her knowing,” Sklar said.
It turns out the culprit had created a fake ID using her information.
“In addition to the fake ID, they signed a listing agreement with a Realtor,” Sklar said. “It was a real listing agreement for land they didn’t own.”
Then, Sklar said, a fake deed was filed. Deeds are used to transfer title or ownership to a property.
This is something Greg Gefen, with Signature Title Group in Boca Raton, knows a lot about.
“Florida has a very vibrant and robust real estate market,” Gefen said. “But the scammers know that it’s very disjointed and that it’s spread out across a lot of small and medium-sized title companies and real estate agencies.”
Gefen believes that’s why this kind of scam is on the rise.
He saw Sklar’s post about what happened on Facebook and sent him a contact for the Secret Service, which was able to stop the wire transfer in its tracks, according to Sklar and Gefen.
“There needs to be some type of coordinated response between the industry and law enforcement, whether it be the Secret Service, the banks, the FBI, because this has been going on for way too long,” Gefen said.
The same type of trick is also being used to dupe renters into falling for a too-good-to-be-true deal online, when the property is not actually available for rent.
It happened to Joseph Veres, who spoke with WPTV in June.
“It just seemed like everybody was legitimate and I didn’t know he was a scammer,” Veres said.
The best way for a property owner to seek recourse is to utilize the online property fraud alert service through MyPalmBeachClerk.com.
Sklar told WPTV that real estate agents should also keep an eye out for red flags. Among them, if the alleged seller contacts a prospective buyer about a sale through email, if he or she asks for the buyer to wire funds internationally, if the seller doesn’t want to close in person or if the seller typically claims he or she is too busy traveling to sign documents in person.
“It was the craziest situation in 23 years of business that I’ve ever experienced,” Sklar said.