With fake ownership papers in hand, S. Fla. scammers hired a Realtor to list their bargain-priced vacant land, apparently hoping to steal a buyer’s deposit or cash at closing.
CORAL GABLES, Fla. – In an unusual new scam, criminals apparently forged ownership deeds for currently vacant land, contacted a Realtor, and listed it for sale in the MLS.
According to Dianne Regalado Kammerer, director of sales with Coldwell Banker Residential Real Estate in Coral Gables, the forged ownership papers were not high quality but they did the trick in at least two cases she discovered.
While the “not high quality” ownership docs could be a red flag to listing agents going forward, though, even high-quality ownership docs could become common if some professional scammers see the ruse as a viable way to steal money.
“The scam involves an imposter owner/seller reaching out to the agent via email and text asking to list their lot as soon as possible and for a very reasonable if not below market price,” Kammerer says. “The communications involved poorly falsified documents, texts, emails and phone calls.”
The scam appears to focus on vacant land in the hopes that a quick sale can happen before the true owners finds out about it – but that tripped up the scammers this time. Kammerer says they discovered the scam when a true owner showed up with proper ownership credentials and demanded that the broker removed the “For Sale” sign from their property.
“We only found the second lot scam … by pulling our office lot/vacant land listings from matrix and checking with each listing agent,” Kammerer says.
The scam’s success appears to rely on two factors: A buyer willing to close quickly on a piece of land that appears to be a bargain, and the original owner not discovering the charade until the scammer has taken the closing money and disappeared. There have been no reports so far of scam successes, and it’s unclear how the scammers hoped to hide their crime from closing agents – but they may have been trying to collect only the deposit before disappearing.
The scam would appear to have more legitimacy to a buyer because it doesn’t just appear on a website such as Craigslist, it also appears in the MLS.
The lesson for Realtors is to confirm ownership documents before listing land in the MLS.
The lesson for landowners is to keep tabs on their property. While it’s not always easy to drive past property weekly to see if there’s a “For Sale” sign near the road, they should try a regular Google search using the property’s address as a search term. If the property is listed on sites such as Zillow or realtor.com, it should come up in the search.
They could also consider setting up Google Alerts using the address.
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