Real Estate Buyers Beware: Seller Impersonation Fraud
If you are a real estate agent, a real estate investor, or someone shopping for a new home, you should be aware of a fraud scheme targeting vacant, unencumbered land known as “seller impersonation fraud”. In this scam, fraudsters try to sell property they do not own by impersonating the owner. Fraudsters have been known to target both residential and commercial properties in both rural and metropolitan areas. Think vacant lots, vacation homes, and other largely unoccupied properties.
Clover Lane Settlement Services, and our affiliated law firm, Fiffik Law Group, can help you avoid fraudulent deals, including those involving seller impersonation fraud. Our team of attorneys and real estate professionals are well adept at anticipating, identifying, and reporting fraud.
Common Red Flags
Too Good to be True
Things are rarely too good to be true. Trust your gut – if something seems off, it probably is! Take a closer look at any of these “too good to be true” situations:
Seller lists below market price, accepts a low-ball offer, and/or demands a quick sale.
Seller offers incentives to achieve a quick closing.
Seller only communicates via email or text and makes excuses for why they cannot talk on the phone or appear in person or on a video call. (Their excuse often has an emotional component such as an emergency surgery, an illness, a divorce, etc. They may also claim to be abroad on business or have recently relocated to a different state.)
For Sale by Owner (FSBO) property.
Properties acquired via foreclosure or some other court-supervised sale process.
Fraudsters often present problematic identification in connection with fraudulent deals:
ID and Passport pictures are identical.
ID and Passport pictures appear to be pulled from the internet. (The person pictured may be a model, celebrity, or other professionally photographed person. These pictures have a one-dimensional and professional quality to them and may appear too perfect and without shadows or imperfections you would normally expect.)
Inconsistent identifying information on ID or Passport. (May list the wrong race, age, gender, name, or address of the real owner or whoever is pictured as the owner.)
ID or Passport in wrong format for issuing year of that country.
Often overlooked, notary blocks offer important clues for shady sellers:
Seller tries to use their own notary (who is in on the fraud.)
Notarization not in the correct format.
Fabricated notary stamp.
Notary name on list of verified forged documents with your title company.
In-person notarization rejected, and/or notarization takes place in a random location different from mailing address.
There are certain words and phrases used frequently by fraudsters that can help you identify when you are communicating with one.
Incorrect or inconsistent formatting
“Kindly” used repeatedly
Words indicating friendship such as “friend” or “pal”
Risk words such as "prevent” or “failure”
Negative words such as “must not” or “never”
References to God or religion
Sense of urgency or rushing
Questions to Ask Your Real Estate Agent
(Or Ask Yourself If You Are The Agent!)
Does the real estate agent personally know the seller?
Has the real estate agent personally met or spoken to the seller, or has communication only been via email or text?
How did the real estate agent obtain this listing?
Why is the property being listed below market value?
Verify the Identification of the Seller
Request two forms of picture identification when the transaction is opened
Carefully review the identification’s format with verified samples for that state or country
Compare the identification’s information with independently verified information on the seller
Perform internet search, including social media, to verify identifying information and find photographs of the seller
Reverse image search the picture on the ID
Schedule a video call with the seller
Compare signature of seller with previously recorded documents
If contract was executed electronically, compare the location of the seller with the location of the IP address.
Verify the Executed Documents
Verify the notarization independently. (At Clover Lane Settlement Services, we have our own Notary Publics.)
Check with your title company to see if the notary’s name appears on the list of known fake notarizations.
Closely examine the documents provided by the seller to look for anything out of the ordinary.
Compare handwriting and signatures to other recorded documents.
We’re Here to Help
We’re aware of specific ongoing seller impersonation fraud schemes and are working with other organizations to identify and put a stop to them. The experienced attorneys and real estate professionals at Clover Lane Settlement Services and Fiffik Law Group are here to ensure you don’t fall victim to fraudsters. Contact us today to learn more.