Will the Real Seller Please Stand Up


New Age of Scammers

It might go without saying, but as a real estate agent, it is important to know your client. You will be assisting in the purchase or sale process and helping them through an important stage in their life. However, in our interconnected world there is another, less discrete reason, why you should really get to know your client: Identity fraud.

Recently, there’s a new breed of scammers preying on agents and buyers where the scammer is acting as the owner of vacant land in the United States but living internationally.  In reality, the “Seller” is a scammer, with no interest in the property, and attempting to take the sale proceeds on a property they do not own.

How Scammers Hide

This type of identity fraud is easy to miss for a few reasons:

  1. The “Seller” is unavailable to talk except through email because they claim to be abroad.
  2. The “Seller” has doctored passports, driver’s licenses, and other forms of identification to portray themselves as the property owner.
  3. The “Seller” obtains fraudulent notarization allegedly authenticated by a U.S. Embassy or Consulate office.

What to Look For To Avoid Fraud

In order to avoid falling victim to this new scheme, consider the following:

  1. Talk with the Seller. Get them on the phone and discuss the transaction. Confirm the name, address, why they are selling, and other information about them. If the Seller refuses to communicate aside from email, red flags should start waving.
  2. Request multiple forms of identification and heavily scrutinize the documents submitted. Most times, you cant detect a doctored or photoshopped image. If you have any doubts about the authenticity of a passport, call the consulate of the issuing country and have them verify.
  3. Heavily scrutinize the notarization portion of the documents and call the embassy or consulate office to confirm the notarization if there are any doubts. A document executed outside of the U.S. that is to be recorded in the U.S. must be notarized through one of these offices. If a consulate or embassy cannot confirm the notarization, you likely have a scammer.
  4. Keep an eye out for less discrete signs of a scammer. These include, but are not limited to, the Seller refusing to complete forms about their personal information, using their own shipment labels, changing wire instructions, using wire instructions for foreign banks, or selling below the market price. If there are any concerns at all, reach out to the title company before proceeding to close the transaction.

Get to Know Your Client

Now more than ever Buyers, Sellers, Real Estate Agents, and Closing Agents must be aware of this new breed of scammers and actively keep an eye for possible fraud in the closing process. As the scammers become smarter, they will inevitably develop new schemes to prey upon unsuspecting Buyers. Therefore, the importance of really getting to know your client cannot be understated!

If you have any questions or concerns regarding anything mentioned within this blog reach out to your trusted real estate attorney for legal advice.

Conrado Gomez, Jr., Esq. cgomez@berlinpatten.com
Berlin Patten Ebling, PLLC

This communication is not intended to establish an attorney client relationship, and to the extent anything contained herein could be construed as legal advice or guidance, you are strongly encouraged to consult with your own attorney before relying upon any information contained herein.

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