Real Estate Scams: For Sale By Owner Sellers Beware

Education & Training with Better Homes & Gardens | The Masiello Group

Protecting Yourself From Real Estate Scams

As a Lewiston-Auburn Maine Realtor®, I have received my fair share of real estate scam emails.  Almost all Realtors® with a strong internet presence get these on a regular basis.

real estate scamsSince For Sale By Owner sellers are now utilizing more and more internet sites to advertise their homes, they may start to receive these as well.  Real Estate agents are so familiar with these schemes, that they can spot them quickly and protect their sellers.  While these emails often contain obvious red flags causing most people to be suspicious, they must be working on someone or the scammers would not continue to spend time sending them out.  For a frustrated seller, even though their inner voice tells them it may be a scam, the temptation of a quick and easy sale can be too much to ignore.

If you are trying to sell your home by yourself, please review the latest real estate scam below so that you will be able to spot a fraudulent buyer if one comes along.  

Real Estate Scam:

A scammer, posing as a buyer, sends an email, usually stating that they are moving to your location from a foreign country.  They request the name and contact information of a local attorney to help them with the money transfer and offer to pay full price and close in a very short time frame, buying the home “site unseen.”  They may even ask to include viewing of the home just before closing as a contingency of the sale.

The scammer does not offer the customary earnest money deposit, but rather either offers to send a very large deposit or the entire amount close to to the closing date.  Just after the funds are received by the victim, and before they have a chance to clear the bank (or in this case before anyone realizes the funds are not really there) the scammer requests a refund of all or a large part of the money.  They come up with various convincing sob stories for this designed to pull at your heart strings.  

The scammer is hoping that the seller or the attorney’s office wires the money to them.  Unfortunately, since the original funds have not cleared the bank, the money sent to the scammers will come out of the seller’s or the attorney’s pocket.

Even if you never get to the point of actually sending money back to the scammer, accepting a shady offer like this will take your home off of the market and waste your valuable time and resources.

Originally, these scams were sent from people posing as Nigerian Princesses, wealthy investors from Jamaica, or widows from other small countries.  The scammers seem to have exhausted those stories and have now moved on to posing as attorneys and teachers from European countries.  They even use names and contact information of real people...with a different email address of course.  That way, if a savvy seller does a little research online, they will look like a legitimate buyer at first glance.

Here are some typical red flags to look for:

  • Foreign Buyer
  • Needs to close quickly
  • Does not want to see the home in person, or only wants to view it just before closing
  • Cash Deal
  • Excessively large deposit to be sent very close to the closing date
  • Typos or incorrect grammar in the email
  • Requests that you contact an attorney for them or send contact information
  • Requests your personal information

Basically, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it is.  The above red flag items by themselves do not guarantee a scam, but when you see more than one of these in an email, chances are it is a scam.  The purchase of a home is a huge investment.  Real buyers will want to view the home before making an offer.  Serious buyers from overseas will actually schedule a time to come and look at homes before they buy.  Not all foreign buyers are scammers.  I myself have received a contact through facebook from a couple coming from South Africa.  I was suspicious at first, but they did actually come and view homes with me.  They were not in an excessive hurry, and went through the traditional steps for their home purchase.

How To Protect Yourself:

  • Ask questions.
  • Don’t give out any personal or bank information.
  • Insist on an earnest money deposit to be deposited and held for a sufficient amount of time to ensure the funds are real.
  • Consult with an attorney.

Most of all, if you have questions, consult a professional.  Even if you are selling your home by yourself, I am here to help when I can.  While I cannot provide you with client level services, per the rules of the Maine Real Estate Commission, I am happy to answer your questions.

Posted by

The Maine Real Estate Network - Kristen Wheatley - Lewiston-Auburn Maine Real Estate

Maine Realtor Kristen Wheatley  

Kristen Wheatley is a Maine Realtor working and living in Central Maine.  She specializes in the sale of residential and investment property in the Lewiston-Auburn area and surrounding towns.  Kristen uses the latest tools and mobile technology to provide a superior experience and results for her clients and enjoys sharing these technology skills and teaching other real estate professionals and local small business owners.

The Maine Real Estate NetworkKristen Wheatley, Associate Broker
The Maine Real Estate Network
34 Center Street - Auburn ME 04210

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Copyright © 2013 by Kristen Wheatley


Re-Blogged 1 time:

Re-Blogged By Re-Blogged At
  1. Lise Howe 12/12/2014 09:05 PM
Home Selling
Maine Androscoggin County
Maine ActiveRain
Maine Real Estate
for sale by owner
real estate scams

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Dorie Dillard
Coldwell Banker United Realtors® ~ 512.346.1799 - Austin, TX
Serving Buyers & Sellers in NW Austin Real Estate

Hi Kristen,

Excellent post! These scams are everywhere and all sellers need to guard themselves!

Sep 17, 2012 06:31 AM #1
Katina Hargrove 352-551-0308
Stake Your Land Realty, Inc. - Eustis, FL
Broker/Owner, GRI,SFR, Realtor


Very good information. I do admire owners who try to sell on their own. I try to give them good points, they can always call me if the need my assistance.


Mar 13, 2013 07:26 AM #2
Inna Ivchenko
Barcode Properties - Encino, CA
Realtor® • Green • GRI • HAFA • PSC Los Angeles CA

Very good information for a homeowner who belives that they will save money working on their own. It is just one of the examples of many scams that is circulating around. Saving little one might loose a lot. Working with a professional, you have a piece of mind.

May 09, 2013 04:12 AM #3
Sheila Anderson
Referral Group Incorporated - East Brunswick, NJ
The Real Estate Whisperer Who Listens 732-715-1133

Good morning Kristen. This is eye opening and scary. You are right agents don't buy into this too good to be true mentality. Seller beware.

Dec 12, 2014 09:40 PM #4
Roy Kelley
Realty Group Referrals - Gaithersburg, MD
Roy and Dolores Kelley Photographs

This is good information to share.

Have a wonderful weekend and a happy holiday season.

Dec 13, 2014 03:21 AM #5
Fred Griffin
Fred Griffin Real Estate - Tallahassee, FL
Licensed Florida Real Estate Broker

Lise reblogged this thread.  It is still very applicable; these emails are still being sent to Sellers and their Agents. 

Dec 13, 2014 10:42 AM #6
Kristen Wheatley
Better Homes & Gardens | The Masiello Group - Brunswick, ME
Supporting Success - Best Job in the World!

Thank you for the comments.  Yes, these seem to continue.  I can only assuem that they must work or the scammers would not keep trying.

Dec 13, 2014 10:53 PM #7
Bob Crane
Woodland Management Service / Woodland Real Estate, Keller Williams fox cities - Stevens Point, WI
Forestland Experts! 715-204-9671

Great post Kristen, good of you to share this warning, I have seen this many times before, but obviously since it is still happening the warning needs to be repeated often until all of the potential victims have been warned.

Dec 14, 2014 07:04 AM #8
Lisa Whalen

Is there not an agency to send these scams to for investigation???

Mar 09, 2015 07:41 AM #9
Inna Ivchenko
Barcode Properties - Encino, CA
Realtor® • Green • GRI • HAFA • PSC Los Angeles CA

For everyone involved in real estate transactions, even if it is FSBO sellers, the key is vigilance and making sure that what is happening should be happening. All instructions about money should be verified. Call your agent, call your escrow, call your lawyer. If not sure what to do, ask.

Oct 04, 2015 04:46 PM #10
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