08/15/23

Let’s keep talking about seller impersonation fraud

2023 has been the year of many things in real estate, including the seller impersonation scam. Just consider these recent stories (here and here).

Title professionals of all kinds are talking about this issue amongst ourselves. We’re getting advisories from our underwriters, trade associations and more. In fact, ALTA CEO Diane Tomb recently penned this op-ed for HousingWire in which she called this activity a threat to “American homeownership” and encouraged all of us in real estate to continue sharing best practices and tips to prevent more of these scams from taking place.

So that’s exactly what we’re doing. We’ve previously discussed red flags, such as a seller only communicating via email or text, insisting on a below-normal price or a quick closing, but our teams wanted to do more. Here are four tips for REALTORS® to help prevent this type of scam, also called vacant lot fraud, because those properties are frequent targets.

Tips for REALTORS®

It’s not just title people talking about this topic, either. Both the Colorado and Connecticut REALTORS® Associations have issued recent warnings. Here is some of that advice. Want more tips? Ask our teams for our seller ID verification checklist.  

1 – Get the seller to do a video call. These fraudsters seem to be avoiding FaceTime calls at all costs and often won’t even engage via a traditional phone call either. If you call the “seller” on the phone and you’re sent to voicemail repeatedly, this is a red flag, especially if the person immediately follows up with a text.  

2 – Ask questions only a legitimate property owner would know. Ask how long they’ve owned a home, features they love, improvements made, etc. Answers that can easily be verified but may not show up on taxes or other easily searched-for documents. Another trick is to request records any real owner could easily provide. It’s always better to be safe than sorry, especially when dealing with a potential scam.

3 – Use public record search tools to your advantage. We’re talking about verifying the name and information of the property owner, reverse phone searching using the seller’s provided number and more. Any one of these simple steps could be the difference between foiling a criminal and letting something slip through the cracks.

4 – Checking IDs early is still important. Scammers are getting better at making sure they have an ID ready in the name of the real owners. However, it’s still important to make sure the name on the ID matches the property documents and compare the signatures with previously recorded documents, such as a deed of conveyance or mortgage deed.

To our agent friends out there, we certainly wish for more (legitimate) listings for you all season long, but none of us must let our guard down when dealing with this scam – and the others out there who threaten our customers and transactions. Contact our teams anytime with questions or concerns; we can’t wait to work with you again.

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