Saturday, July 13, 2024

Virginia Realtor Association Issues Scam Alert

WILLIAMSBURG — Virginia REALTORS issued a scam alert based on a recent uptick in criminals attempting to initiate the sale of properties they do not own.

Across Virginia, real estate licensees are seeing a sharp increase in scams involving fraudulent buyers and sellers.

Local Howard Hanna real estate agent Tom Coffey said their office has, unfortunately, witnessed these types of scams.

“While I have not experienced this personally, agents have been made aware. In our area, there have been several fake listings, typically land because it is easier to get away with, one involving property off the Colonial Parkway,” said Coffey.

Virginia REALTORS warns the latest scam involves criminals contacting real estate agents to list properties they do not own. Typically, the criminals are looking to sell properties that do not have a mortgage — commonly in the form of vacant lots — below market value, for cash, and quickly. By targeting properties that do not have a mortgage or other lien, scammers hope to complete the transaction before the true owner gets tipped off by the lender.

“We’re hearing of a lot of cases in which the phony sellers use a medical or family emergency to explain why they’re unable to conduct the transaction in person,” says Virginia REALTORS General Counsel Laura M. Murray. “Often, they will insist on conducting the entire transaction virtually.” In many of these cases, the digital images of photo IDs provided by criminals are intentionally made to be barely legible. 

“With the availability of technology, it has become fairly easy for someone to drive by and see a piece of land with no house then set it up as for sale by owner,” said Coffey, “Someone who wants it will wire an earnest money deposit then they never hear back from the seller again.”

Coffey advises that people should check the tax records, since that is public knowledge, and try to verify the seller.

“If it is for sale by owner and it is land you better be really careful,” warns Coffey. “It can be challenging because the deposit happens before the title work begins. I hate to put in a plug for realtors but, when buyers put in earnest money with us it is held in escrow, so no one gets that money until everything is recorded with the courts and the deed is produced. But in a for sale by owner transaction, they can ask the buyer to wire funds to any shell company and you would never see that person or money again.”

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