What is Real Estate Fraud and How to Prevent It?

September 7, 2023 | Real Estate | By: The Goodhart Group

The allure of owning property, whether for personal use or investment, is undoubtedly one of the most significant financial decisions a person can make. Unfortunately, where there’s money to be made, fraudsters are never far behind. Real estate fraud can take many forms, from artificially low-priced rentals to wire fraud schemes. Let’s delve into the various scams and provide tips on how buyers and sellers can protect themselves.

  1. Real Estate Wire Fraud

How it Works: Wire fraud in real estate involves a scammer intercepting and redirecting wire transfer funds by posing as a legitimate party in the transaction. They often use hacked email accounts or fake websites to mislead the victim into sending money to the wrong account.

How to Prevent It: Double-check before transferring– always confirm payment instructions in person or over the phone before initiating a wire transfer. Use encrypted communication– when discussing transaction details, use encrypted email or secure messaging platforms. Be wary of sudden changes– if you receive new or modified wire transfer instructions, always confirm with a known contact.

  1. Rental Scams

How it Works: In this scam, fraudsters list properties (which they don’t own or have authority over) for rent at suspiciously low prices to attract victims. Once interested, they might ask for a deposit or rental payment upfront without showing the property. After payment, the scammer disappears, leaving the victim without a place to stay and a lighter wallet.

How to Prevent It: See before you pay – never pay for a rental without first viewing the property in person. Research the property– use online tools to verify property ownership and cross-check listings across multiple platforms. Avoid wire transfers– scammers prefer hard-to-trace payment methods. Stick to traditional payment options or use verified platforms.

Avoiding fraud is just one aspect of a positive real estate experience. Here are some other resources that can help you when buying or selling:

  1. Title Fraud

How it Works: A fraudster forges documents to make it seem like they own a property. They then take out a mortgage on that property, pocketing the loaned money and leaving the real owner with the debt.

How to Prevent It: Invest in title insurance– this can protect you from potential losses arising from title fraud. Regularly check property records– ensure no unauthorized changes or mortgages have been registered against your property.

  1. Fake Real Estate Agents

How it Works: Scammers pose as real estate agents and list properties they don’t represent. Once they secure a deposit or even the full payment, they vanish.

How to Prevent It: Verify credentials– always check the credentials of your agent through local real estate boards or regulatory authorities. Ask for references– a genuine agent will have past clients and references.

  1. Bait and Switch Schemes

How it Works: In this scam, a buyer agrees on a price for a property. However, at the last moment, the fraudster changes the property details but hopes the buyer doesn’t notice.

How to Prevent It: Review all documents– always review the property description on all documents before signing. Engage a lawyer– having a trusted legal representative can ensure that all documents are in order and that you aren’t being duped.

The Bottom Line:

Real estate fraud can be a nightmare for unsuspecting victims. But with a cautious approach, thorough research, and seeking advice from trusted professionals, you can avoid falling prey to these scams. Remember, if a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.

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