No one knows the full damage caused by fake real estate agents and offers of fake real estate since no international agency compiles statistics.
Back in the 1920s one of the biggest real estate scams was selling Florida swampland to unsuspecting investors. It would only be a matter of time before fake real estate scams expanded overseas to become a global phenomenon.
What facilitated this was the affordability of air travel. Say you live in chilly Minnesota and are looking for a warmer climate to spend your winters in your retirement years. Why not consider buying a condo in Acapulco? If you live in Britain and vacation every winter in Spain anyway, why not save money and invest in a beachfront cottage in Malaga? Or for that matter, reversing seasons, if you reside in the Gulf why not cool off in the summer by purchasing a second home somewhere in Northern Europe?
Distance Reduces Visibility
In 2013, a real estate firm in Detroit found itself in court charged with defrauding foreign investors. According to the lawsuit, the firm acquired abandoned hovels for anywhere between $500 and $5,000 a piece. It then resold them to eager Europeans for as much as $50,000. The only problem was that the homes were entirely inappropriate for human habitation and, thus, unrentable. Of course, the real estate firm knew that beforehand.
The new owners not only accused the real estate firm of issuing fraudulent guarantees about the properties. They also claimed that the firm failed to repair the properties as promised. Moreover, they said the firm lied to them by telling them that some of the units were rented to tenants. In at least one case, an investor who paid the real estate firm for a home later discovered that he didn’t even own it. The money was embezzled. The court ultimately ordered the firm to pay the defendants $625,000. In return, the plaintiffs signed a confidentiality agreement that forbade them from revealing additional details.
Fake Real Estate Outside the USA
Around the world, courts hear similar cases on a regular basis. Nonetheless, no one knows the full scope of offers of fake real estate since no one single agency is charged with the responsibility to compile statistics. Moreover, victims may be too embarrassed to report their experiences anyway.
Based on cases reported in the press, overseas property scams plague Belize, Bulgaria, Cape Verde, Estonia, the Indian state of Goa, and, increasingly, the Mexican state of Yucatán, among other locations.
Warning from the FBI
For its part, the FBI issued a warning of its own to owners of rental housing. The warning concerns a property scam that can affect both Americans as well as citizens of any other country interested in renting homes in the United States. Scammers take ads from legitimate real estate listings, alter them and then repost them elsewhere online. Quite often, the scammer may even use the real estate agent’s real name and create a fake email address to provide an opaque veneer of legitimacy.
A potential renter who responds will receive an email purportedly from the owner. In reality, of course, the scammer is the one who sends it. The fraudulent ‘owner’ typically writes that he and his wife are doing missionary work in a foreign country and need someone to rent their home while they are away. If the victim is interested, he or she is asked to send money to the ‘owner’ in the foreign country. These funds go directly to the scammer, who promptly disappears. The would-be renter loses his or her money entirely.
A study released in mid-2021 that was based on Better Business Bureau data found that rental scams had been reported in 974 cities across the USA during the previous six years. The city hardest hit was Los Angeles, followed by Boise, Idaho and then San Francisco. Cleveland and the New York City boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn all tied for fifth place. Idaho was the hardest hit state, however, followed by Hawaii, California, Colorado, and then Oregon.
Unsurprisingly, sparsely-populated Idaho, and its capital Boise, are especially affected due to the large numbers of middle class Californians who are leaving that state. Nonetheless, California’s two largest cities continued to suffer from rental scams, as did New York City, which is also losing residents.
Real Estate Wire Scams
Real estate scams of all types are on the rise. Take real estate wire scams as an example. Scammers hack into computer systems of real estate firms, law firms and construction contractors. They then access the details of purchase contracts that have not yet been paid in full. With that information in their hands, they then contact the buyers pretending to be the real estate agents, attorneys or contractors. They direct them to wire funds to an account they control. According to FBI statistics, in 2018 there were more than 11,300 victims of such scams in the U.S. Losses topped $150 million. Worse yet, that’s a jump of 166 percent over 2017 statistics.
Making It Easy for Fake Real Estate Agents
Real estate scams show no sign of disappearing any time soon. In fact, they only seem to be getting more harmful and prevalent. Over the course of 2020 and 2021 the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic led to an increase in all sorts of scams, including fake real estate. Any fake real estate agent can take advantage of coronavirus restrictions to make his or her crimes harder to detect. Among other things, they can use the lockdown and the virus as excuses to avoid meeting face to face with potential buyers or renters, which, for a fake real estate agent, is something of a dream come true.
California has even invoked emergency measures due to the crisis. These measures permit far more of the home purchasing process to take place remotely. Criminals wasted no time taking advantage of the lack of face-to-face and in-person contact to execute a rash of fake real estate offers in the San Francisco Bay area.
If you think you’ve been the victim of a real estate scam, contact the fund recovery experts at MyChargeBack.