While scam artists have always been around, modern technology has made their work easier and more effective. Readily accessible public records are fodder for them.
Recently, I received a text with the look and feel of an authentic inquiry. The writer inquired about commissions and timing. When I called the writer, he answered the phone. Our dialogue was typical of a potential seller. They responded with an Outlook email address to my request for their email address. The property address and description matched as well as the name given during our conversation.
The potential “seller” knew about the property’s features, details, and general acquisition information. My intuition had an initial twinge when I learned that the caller was out of town and wanted to sell as soon as possible. My scam antennae were on mild alert. I was planning identity verification measures before concluding the initial conversation.
The property in question was a vacant lot of substantial value. Fortunately, I am familiar with the area and the associated lots. My former investigator self was devising plans to verify the veracity of the caller.
Upon my return to my office, I dug deeper into the owner. I discovered phone numbers that did not match the one from which the text was sent. A phone call to the newly discovered phone number confirmed my suspicions. The caller/texter was a scam. The actual property owner confirmed that they had not spoken to me or asked to sell their lot. The owner was naturally upset. Was he being targeted, was someone trying to steal the lot, or was the texter trying to “tunnel” into my computer network?
How can someone other than the actual owner sell a property? There are many ways. One of the easiest ways is a gullible agent. Forged documents, identity theft, an absentee owner, an owner’s death, and many other scenarios can separate a rightful owner from their property.
What can a property owner do to protect the titles to their properties? Here are some ways:
- If closing on a new purchase, buy owner’s title insurance. However, enhanced title insurance is typically not available for vacant land.
- Another option is to subscribe to an identity protection service with a title monitoring option.
- If you own investment property or vacant land, visit your properties, introduce yourself to the neighbors and ask them to alert you to any suspicious activities or strange or repeated visitors, visits or unexpected surveys.
At Properties on the Potomac, Inc., we are implementing new and higher levels of security to safeguard our community from this form of theft. We are educating our agents, working with professionals, and designing stringent security measures. The increased security measures might seem invasive to callers to our office and agents. Please know that we intend to protect property owners’ rights and never be duped to the contrary.
Through our affiliation with the National Association of Realtors, Northern Virginia Association of Realtors, and the Greater Capital Area Association of Realtors, we have available sophisticated resources and research tools with which we can help protect our clients and our community. If you have questions or concerns about real estate scams, call Properties on the Potomac at 703-624-8333.