from Local Attorney, Michael H. Wasserman

Thursday, September 30, 2010

REALTOR ALERT - International Scammers Have You In Their Sights

Realtors - What would you think of representing an all cash buyer who is moving his family to Chicago from out of the Country, and who needs your urgent help to find a suitable home? Sounds nice, right?  He needs you to send him listings ASAP as he really needs to move quickly. Even better. Oh yeah, one more thing, he wants to wire you money, lots of it now, so that he can have it ready for the closing. Still interested?

If you are, better take a deep breath before reading on. This is the script to a  fairly elaborate - and pervasive scam that is being perpetrated on unsuspecting Realtors all across the country. I have seen it now twice in just the last three weeks. One agent was approached via Trulia. The other received a lead directly from the brokerage's web site.

More details about the scam can be found in this Trulia posting, and this Orlando, Florida lawyer's blog.

The first time this came up, I advised the inquiring agent to take extra care to try to verify the would-be buyer's funds and identity. He sent photocopies of a passport and a bank statement, but quickly disappeared and dropped contact when we started making inquiries with the bank.

I was curious enough about the scam, that when a second agent called to ask about the same scenario a week later, I opened up an email correspondence with the purported buyer. He asked to hire me to represent him at his intended closing. I agreed, provided that he send me a non-refundable $750 retainer, together with two photo identifications.

Well, he did. Kind of. No identification, but the attached letter and check purportedly sent by the prospective client's Canadian lawyer. The trouble is, (a) I had only asked for a $750 retainer but the check is made out for $155,000' (b) there is no "contract" (c) the web site URL on the check is bogus, (d) the phone number too, and (e) the letter's author is not employed by the law firm.

This a real law firm. I call their offices and spoke to a staffer who knew I had received a check just as soon as I asked to speak to "the lawyer." She told me that they had already received at least 500 such inquiries from across the US.

There is an old real estate lawyer-told joke in which the prospective client calls the intrepid lawyer to ask for a fee quote on a "simple" transaction. The lawyer responds, "I'll let you know just as soon as I participate in one." This is reason number 387 why. There just aren't any. Not anymore, anyway.

If you EVER hear from a prospect who is suggesting a deal that is too good to be true, do yourself a favor. Call me, or some other trusted advisor first.