You work for years producing content, IDX pages, refining your website, seeking that page 1 placement for key search results, all with one goal: to attract business.
The phone rings, text dings, email "you've got mail", the start of (hopefully) a productive relationship.
BUT...now all leads developed from our work are GOOD leads.
Of course there are those already working with an agent, the brain pickers, the "I don't need an agent, just tell me the price", and the like, but that's not what this is about.
There are those out there far, far worse. Literal law breakers.
True story follows:
TL;DR version: con artist fakes being a seller, agent figures it out. Read for details:
Over the Thanksgiving weekend, we received a contact form for a CMA request from our oldest website: Vacant land, fairly level, just down the street from the subdivision we've done our 2nd leading amount of business.
CMA performed and sent over to the seller after checking the county records. Land is fairly level, buildable, and the contacts name matched the county records.
It wouldn't be the first time we've worked with out of state clients that we've never met and so far nothing seems out of place.
The seller follows up with a phone call and says a couple of things that seem a bit off, but not too off.
He seems unusually interested in a quick sale. By itself, nothing wrong with that. Financially motivated to get it done?
He's okay with the CMA price...but he's been talking to other agents who want to list it, but wants to work with me so get the listing agreement over for him to electronically sign. He's REALLY busy with his businesses so may be tough to reach.
He signs the listing agreement late Saturday night and we plan to go live in MLS on Monday morning. Sunday I go out to the lot, check out the two acres a bit further, get some pictures, place a sign.
But something doesn't feel QUITE right. By itself, nothing wrong with an "outlook" email address. Nothing wrong with being motivated to sell. Nothing wrong with being an out of state seller. I asked for an address for the seller and he balked, I've sold other property and the agents didn't need that information.
But...it just doesn't FEEL right. And as an engineer who isn't much on EQ stuff, for it to not FEEL right sends me digging for more information, especially since he balked at providing an address. And another red flag, when's the last time a seller didn't ASK about your commission rate? He didn't.
The seller's phone call was from White Plains, NY. 95 cents for a Spokeo report and there was no name/address associated with the property, just a landline.
I know the owner was in the restaurant business, and had a local restaurant at one point, and had also had one in Pennsylvania, so why the NY phone number???
Not much I could do over the weekend beyond some general searching, so the listing went live on Monday as planned. I verify with the county the need for a septic field and water is available at the street. We have showings and calls, and a builder very interested in buying the property.
But I still have suspicions, and for reasons I won't go into, asking for a copy of his driver's license wasn't really on the table. I checked with my broker and my preferred title company, and not much at that point they could recommend.
I bounced my concerns off of another Rainer who I assumed does a fair amount of business with out of state buyers in her market. Her search service didn't provide any additional information either, but there was one more rabbit hole to go down. The county auditor's site had the tax bill going to an address in SC, not NY. A check of the address confirmed the owner of the land lived there, and another Spokeo report and I had names, emails and phone numbers to try. The phone numbers turned out to be old, but one of the email tied up to several social media accounts, which in turn led me to the seller's name being tied with several NC restaurants.
It took some trying (phone lines down for a day due to a power outage), but I finally got in touch with the owner. The REAL owner for the property. Of course he was surprised when I asked if he was the guy I'd been in contact with about selling his Ohio land? It took some explaining as to what had happened and how I'd tracked him down. He wanted to meet in a couple of days as he was coming back to Ohio to check on a local restaurant.
In the interim, the FAKE owner is pressing for an offer from the builder, but by now I know he's FAKE.
I contact our local MLS and explain the fraud and get the listing CANX. I explain to the builder and other interested agents what happened.
I meet with the REAL owner on Friday. He's got plans to build on the property in the future, so no interest in selling. We check in with the local police department and they refer us to the county sheriff's office.
I meet with a deputy that morning and fill out a police report, along with providing copies of all the emails from the FAKE seller, screen cap of the phone number, etc.
At this point I've declined all calls from the FAKE seller, who is now calling from a Washington DC landline (again, no address or details on Spokeo).
The REAL seller and I are on good terms. He's thankful that I dug into this and reached out to him. If he changes his mind about selling, he promised to contact me to help.
But today, the same FAKE person hit me up to list another vacant land property. This time he's pretending to be a woman (I guess he didn't know that my website would identify the contact under the original name he provided), and using the same DC number he's been calling me from. More info was forwarded to the deputy.
I've reached out to our local MLS about putting out a warning about the con artists attempting to sell land that isn't theirs.
The only thing I haven't checked out yet is if iHouse can identify the IP addresses that sent the contact form.
Maybe the police can't do anything about this. Maybe it takes more tools than they have.
But at least I know we avoided a mess that might not have been found out until closing, or maybe not even then.
Keep your eyes open, it's a strange business we're in.
Until next Tuesday, just Ask An Ambassador if you need help,
Bill & Liz aka BLiz