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Land Sale Scam Making the Rounds 2023

Nationwide land sale scam

There is a nationwide spike (and in MA!) of scammers impersonating sellers who want to list land for sale with a Realtor®, mostly valued under $100,000. They claim they are the owner and use the owner’s real name but are “out of town” or unable to meet at the land in person.  These are skillful scammers. They create fake email addresses that appear to be from the owners.  In a few cases, they have succeeded in going through the closing / deed transfer process using remote signatures (and when pressed, have credible looking fake IDs.) – making this a true nightmare for both the real owner to try to restore their ownership and the buyer who lost their money.

If you are concerned or suspicious that a parcel of land for sale might be a scam, you could contact the listing Realtor® or another Realtor® who could do some preliminary investigation using the tools available through the Realtor® association and other means of checking on the legitimacy of the listing offered for sale.

There are so many scams and scammers operating in the public sphere and it behooves everyone to be alert and report anything suspicious to the appropriate authorities but best to do some basic research first or turn to an expert to do this for you. Better to investigate the matter and determine if it is in fact legitimate, than to jump to conclusions and end up embarrassed.

How can REALTORS® protect themselves and consumers from a scam?

  • We can check RPR or the tax records to find the name and address of the owner of record. Different? That’s one red flag.
  • If the property is owned by an LLC or corporation, we can check the Secretary of State corporate records online to find the name and address of the officers.
  • We can ask the seller to send a copy of a government ID that matches the address on record. (driver’s license or passport)
  • We can ask to see a copy of a tax bill, statement, or other local document that contains the seller’s address.
  • We can talk to the neighbors – in two cases, neighbors saw the land for sale and asked the real owners about it – leading to the discovery
  • We can ask the person questions about the property that are not mentioned publicly.
  • We can schedule a time to speak on the phone and/or Facetime or other form of video conferencing.
  • We can use a trusted closing attorney that has procedures in place for verifying identity.

If you believe that a scam is occurring, the listing should be withdrawn from MLS immediately and then report it to:

  • the police department in the town or city in which the property is located.
  • the State Police and
  • the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center(IC3) | File a Complaint
  • Note: If the seller sent closing documents by mail, handle it carefully. According to law enforcement, the package can be dusted for fingerprints.

To avoid this and other scams, trust your instincts.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Thanks to the Rhode Island Association of REALTORS® Legal Counsel for insight on dealing with this issue!