A sophisticated scam left an Australian business man with a half million dollars stolen when criminals sold 2 properties and almost a 3rd using his stolen credentials. This kind of scam is happening in the U.S. too.
The business man had been overseas for a while and his neighbor contacted him at one point because his home was on the market and being sold. When the business man started investigating the non-permissioned sale, that’s when he realized the other properties had been sold and were no longer his.
The thieves, were believed to be Nigerian, and had enough information on the man to allow the real estate transactions to go through. It is believed the criminal hackers got into his email account and obtained his personal identifying information along with his property documents which enabled the criminals to sell the houses.
Reports state the transactions were made virtually via email, telephone and fax, without any physical contact between the owner and anyone else. In this scam the owner, the real estate agent, banks, and various government agencies were all duped.
The system of checking and verifying identities in this case and in others often fails.
Advice to prevent this type of crime is often directed towards real estate agents who are used as the pawn in the transaction and do the dirty deed for the scammer.
In the very least agents should request a photocopy of a driver’s license or passport before listing a home for sale when doing business virtually. Other suggestions might be verify signatures using a notary or checking existing documentation and compare signatures. Look at deeds for alterations and get them from the title company.
More importantly it is essential that the homeowner meet the real estate agent for a face to face meeting. Airfare can’t cost more than a few thousand dollars and when doing a half million dollar transaction it makes sense for everyone involved to make this a priority.
But the best thing and probably the most effective solution when doing a full blown virtual transaction is to contact a lawyer wherever the seller may be and require the seller to verify themselves through a competent lawyer or other professional who can review and certify the sellers credentials.
Homeowners have a different set of responsibilities.
First and foremost make sure to invest in title insurance. Title insurance should cover legal bills associated with this type of scam. Check the policy.
If you plan on leaving your home or investment property vacant for any period of time get friendly with your neighbors and request they alert you in case your property goes on sale.
Do the same with local real estate agents and request they do an occasional drive by. Have that same real estate agent check the MLS listing occasionally looking for your property to show up on the market.
Invest in technology. A home security camera solution that alerts you to any activity on the home can give you a sense of there is any mischief. Motion sensitive cameras can alert you to any activity via text or email and can be viewed remotely via a mobile phone or internet connection.