There have been lots of reports in recent years regarding the prevalence of deed fraud, but lately scammers are not even bothering with trying to change the deed to their name first, and are simply impersonating the true owner. This listing fraud form of a scam is on the rise throughout the area, and real estate agents are being warned to be wary when they receive a random lead from an unknown source, especially for vacant lot listings.
Deed fraud is when a person records a deed that appears to be valid, but it is not, either by forgery of the owner’s signature, or the deed may be signed by a Trust or entity that looks like it has ownership of the property. This newer real estate scam skips the process of deed fraud, and just attempts to trick local real estate agents into listing the property through impersonating the true owner.
The criminals search public records to identify property that is free and clear of mortgages, and then pose as the property owner and contact local real estate agents to list the property. They are creating fake driver’s licenses utilizing primary home addresses of the true owner, and will usually demonstrate a preference for a cash buyer and a quick sale under market value. They will also make up a story of why they can’t sign in person and requests a remote notary signing (they would then also impersonate the notary and provide fake documents).
When agents are listing a home, they need to take extra steps to ensure who they are speaking with is in fact the owner because the burden of verification is on the real estate and title companies. The US Secret Service website offers good tips on how to prevent this from happening to you:
- Independently search for the identity and a recent picture of the property seller.
- Request an in-person or virtual meeting and to see their government issued identification.
- Be on alert when a seller accepts an offer below market value in exchange for receiving the payment in cash and/or closing quickly (“sounds too good to be true” rule of thumb).
- Never allow a seller to arrange their own notary closing.
- Use trusted title companies and attorneys for the exchange of closing documents and funds.
Lauren Bunting is a Broker with Keller Williams Realty of Delmarva in Ocean City, Maryland.