Yikes – There is a nationwide spike (and in MA!) of scammers impersonating sellers who want to list land for sale, mostly valued under $100,000. They claim they are the owner and use the owner’s real name, but are “out of town” or unable to meet at the land in person. These are savvy scammers and create fake email addresses that appears from the owners. In a few cases, they have succeeded in going through the closing / deed transfer process using remote signatures (and when pressed, have pretty good fake IDs.) – making this a true nightmare for both the real owner to try to restore their ownership and the buyer who lost their money.
How can REALTORS® protect themselves and consumers from a scam?
- Check RPR or the tax records to find the name and address of the owner of record. Different? That’s one red flag.
- If the property is owned by an LLC or corporation, check the Secretary of State corporate records online to find the name and address of the officers.
- Ask the seller to send you a copy of a government ID that matches the address on record. (driver’s license or passport)
- Ask to see a copy of a tax bill, statement, or other local document you can recognize that contain the seller’s address.
- Talk to the neighbors – in two cases, neighbors saw the land for sale and asked the real owners about it – leading to the discovery
- Ask the person questions about the property that are not mentioned publicly.
- Schedule a time to speak on the phone and/or Facetime or other form of video conferencing.
- Use a trusted closing attorney that has procedures in place for verifying identity.
If you believe that a scam is occurring, withdraw the listing and immediately report it to:
- the police department in the town or city in which the property is located.
- the State Police and
- the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center(IC3) | File a Complaint
- Note: If the seller sent closing documents by mail, handle it carefully. According to law enforcement, the package can be dusted for fingerprints.
To avoid this and other scams, trust your instincts. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Thank you to the Rhode Island Association of REALTORS Legal Counsel for insight on dealing with this issue!