The U.S. Secret Service reports seeing an increase in scams where criminals contact real estate agents about listing vacant properties without liens. These criminals are looking to sell property, usually below market value, for cash and quickly. According to DPOR, “The scam commonly targets unencumbered and vacant lots owned by persons out of state. With this scam, Virginia real estate licensees may be contacted by a person acting as a seller seeking to have a vacant lot sold quickly and under market value.”
The criminals will often claim that there is some sort of emergency—family or medical—or that they are stuck abroad, to explain why they are looking to sell so quickly. They will also insist on conducting the entire transaction virtually.
So what should you watch out for?
- Sellers who want to conduct the entire transaction virtually and do not want to meet “face to face” even by video call
- Sellers who are looking to sell their property fast, for cash, and/or below market value, especially if there are no liens on the property
- Photo IDs, such as driver’s licenses or passports, that are barely legible
What can you do to protect yourself?
- Conduct independent research on property ownership through the county land records
- Insist on meeting with the seller—either in person or by video call
- Insist on a known settlement company or attorney being involved in the transaction
- If something seems off, speak with your broker about further steps you can take
More details about this scam are available on DPOR’s website.