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Written by Clicks® Team

May 07, 2024

15 Common Real Estate Scams and How to Prevent Them

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Buying or renting a new home can be an exciting yet nerve-wracking experience. These real estate transactions involve large sums of money and complex transactions, making them attractive targets for scammers. From rental scams to mortgage fraud, it's essential to be aware of the tactics used by fraudsters and how to protect yourself. Whether you're a seasoned investor or a first-time homebuyer, vigilance is crucial. Falling victim to a real estate scam can have devastating financial and emotional consequences.

This comprehensive guide empowers you to navigate the real estate landscape with confidence. We'll explore 15 common real estate scams, equip you with preventative strategies, and show you howClicks®, a revolutionary real estate online social network platform can help you navigate the real estate market safely by fostering safe and secure real estate transactions.

Understanding Real Estate Scams

Real estate scams come in various forms but generally involve fraudulent activities aimed at deceiving buyers, sellers, or renters by exploiting their vulnerabilities and trust. Scammers exploit a lack of knowledge or a desire for a quick bargain to manipulate you into parting with your hard-earned money. They often use tactics such as fake listings, identity theft, and forged documents to trick their victims. Understanding the common types of scams can help you avoid falling victim to fraudsters.

The Rogues' Gallery: 15 Real Estate Scams Unmasked

Here's a breakdown of the common tactics employed by real estate scammers:

  1. Fake Listings:

    Fake listings indeed pose a significant threat to potential buyers. One notable real-world example is the case of the "phantom listings" in New York City, where scammers create fake listings for apartments that don't actually exist or are not available for rent. They often use stolen photos and descriptions from legitimate listings to make their ads appear genuine.

    In 2019, a Manhattan couple fell victim to such a scam when they paid $5,200 in advance for an apartment they found listed on Craigslist. However, when they arrived to move in, they discovered that the apartment didn't exist, and they had been swindled by a fraudulent listing. This case highlights the dangers of fake listings and the importance of verifying the authenticity of online listings before making any payments or commitments.

    Another example is the case of a scammer in California who created fake rental listings on popular platforms like Zillow and Craigslist. The scammer would collect security deposits and first month's rent from unsuspecting tenants for properties that were not actually available for rent. This scam affected numerous renters who lost thousands of dollars before the scammer was caught and arrested by authorities.

  2. Rental Scams:

    Fraudulent online ads entice potential tenants with dream rentals at unbeatable prices. Scammers pose as landlords demand upfront deposits or security fees without allowing viewings, leaving victims with empty pockets and no place to live.

    In one disturbing incident, a man found an apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts, through an online advertisement. He was instructed to pay the first and last month’s rent, along with a security deposit, totaling $6,000. After the check cleared, he went to collect the apartment keys but no one answered the door. Subsequent attempts to contact the supposed landlord were futile until he received a blunt message: "you got scammed, do not text this phone anymore"

  3. Wire Transfer Fraud:

    Wire transfer fraud is a prevalent threat in the real estate sector, often facilitated by sophisticated scams involving email or virtual communication hacks. Scammers typically impersonate legitimate entities like escrow companies or closing agents to direct funds to fraudulent accounts.

    Case Study: Carly Andreatos nearly lost $22,890, her entire life savings, when she received what appeared to be legitimate wiring instructions from her attorney’s paralegal just days before closing on a house. It turned out to be a scam, and she was left uncertain about her future housing and financial recovery. This scam highlights the method where fraudsters gain access to email accounts and wait for the critical moment in a transaction to intercept and redirect large sums of money meant for home purchases.

  4. Property Flipping Scams:

    Property flipping scams involve scammers pressuring investors into purchasing properties at inflated prices by exaggerating the potential for renovations or rental returns. Often, these schemes may also involve falsifying property conditions and values to make deals appear more attractive than they truly are.

    In some scenarios, scammers engage in what's known as cash-out purchase fraud. This typically occurs when a property is bought and then quickly resold at a significantly higher price under the pretense of improvements that were either never made or grossly exaggerated. The scam often involves collusion with appraisers or other real estate professionals to inflate the property value artificially. Victims of these scams can end up with properties that are worth much less than they paid and may face financial struggles, especially if they cannot offload the property without incurring losses.

  5. Title Theft:

    Title theft, also known as deed fraud, is a severe form of real estate scam where scammers use forged documents or stolen identities to illegally claim ownership of properties. Once they've transferred ownership, they can secure loans against the property, leaving the real owner burdened with the debt.

    In a notable case from Detroit, a community organizer involved in homeowner assistance programs exploited her position to execute a scheme that led to over 30 homes being fraudulently transferred. Using forged quitclaim deeds, she transferred these properties to fictitious entities and sold them to third parties, unbeknownst to the legitimate owners. The legal simplicity of quitclaim deeds, which transfer ownership without guarantees about the property’s title status, often facilitates such frauds.

Common Real Estate Scams in Singapore

  1. Business Email Compromise (BEC) and Wire Transfer Fraud

    Scammers hack the email accounts of real estate agents or title companies to intercept communications. They then impersonate these parties to redirect escrow funds to their accounts. This type of scam has seen a significant increase in incidents and losses over recent years.

    In a significant case in Singapore, a company fell victim to a BEC scam involving around $800,000. The scam began with an employee of a competing company being deceived by fraudulent instructions via a compromised CEO's email, directing them to transfer money to a Hong Kong bank account linked to a transaction for Saber Holdings. Although the seized funds were eventually returned to Saber Holdings after thorough investigations, this case highlights the dangers of BEC in the real estate sector and the sophisticated nature of email frauds targeting businesses.

  2. Fake Rental Listings

    This scam involves creating fictitious rental listings or hijacking legitimate listings to solicit security deposits and advance rents from prospective tenants. Scammers typically lure victims with below-market prices and disappear after receiving the money.

  3. Collective Investment Scams

    In these scams, fraudsters entice victims to pool their money for property investments that promise high returns. Often these investments are either completely bogus or the properties are overvalued and the schemes poorly managed. The scams have occurred across Asia, where investors were duped into putting money into non-existent or severely overvalued property investments. These schemes often promise high returns and use legitimate-looking marketing materials to convince investors of their authenticity.

  4. Title and Deed Fraud

    In a notable incident, not directly from Singapore but illustrative of the risks, fraudsters forged property deeds to claim ownership and illegally sell properties without the actual owner’s consent. These cases often involve creating or modifying official documents to appear as if a transfer of ownership has legally occurred.

  5. Moving Scams

    A common moving scam, observed in various locations, involves low initial quotes that balloon after the belongings are loaded onto the truck. Customers find themselves in a position where they must pay the inflated prices to get their possessions back. Such cases highlight the importance of verifying moving companies and insisting on binding quotes before agreeing to services.

Other Types of Real Estate Scam

  1. Foreclosure Scams: Preying on vulnerable homeowners facing foreclosure, scammers offer "get out of foreclosure" schemes that involve phony legal services or fake loan modifications, ultimately costing homeowners their equity.

  2. Phishing Scams: Scammers send deceptive emails or text messages purporting to be from legitimate sources like banks or real estate agents trick victims into divulging personal information like passwords or financial information like bank account details.

  3. Bait and Switch: Fraudulent listings showcase a desirable property to attract interest, but upon contact, the scammer claims it's unavailable and pushes a less attractive option or a more expensive property.

  4. Title Theft: Scammers use stolen identities or forged documents to illegally claim ownership of a property. They transfer ownership of a property to themselves and then take out a mortgage on the property, leaving the rightful owner with the debt. Thorough title searches are essential to safeguard your investment.

  5. Rental Deposit Scams: Landlords or property managers collect security deposits but fail to return them upon move-out, fabricating reasons for deductions or simply disappearing.

  6. Double Escrows: A seller lists the same property with multiple agents, collecting escrow deposits from unsuspecting buyers without disclosing the multiple contracts.

  7. Mortgage Scams: Predatory lenders lure borrowers with seemingly low-interest rates but conceal exorbitant hidden fees or balloon payments, leading to financial hardship. They can also lower interest rates for a fee but fail to deliver on their promises.

  8. Home Improvement Scams: Con artists pressure homeowners into unnecessary repairs at inflated prices, often leaving the work unfinished or completed poorly. These scammers can also offer home improvement services at low prices but either do shady work or disappear after receiving payment.

  9. Investment Scams: Fraudulent investment opportunities promise high returns on real estate ventures that turn out to be non-existent, leaving investors with significant financial losses.

  10. Fake Agent Scams: Individuals impersonate licensed real estate agents, collecting fees for services they never provide, or worse, stealing personal information for fraudulent purposes.

  11. Short Sale Scams: Scammers convince homeowners to sell their homes at a low price, promising to negotiate with the bank on their behalf but then disappear with the proceeds.

By familiarizing yourself with these tactics, you can develop a healthy dose of scepticism and avoid becoming another victim.

5 Common Scenarios of Real Estate Scam & Identifying the Red Flags

Now that you're armed with a basic understanding of common real estate scams, let's delve deeper into specific scenarios to further enhance your awareness. We'll expose the red flags and provide actionable tips to help you steer clear of these deceptive practices.

Scenario 1: The Dream Rental at an Impossible Price

You're desperately seeking an apartment, and a listing pops up online offering a luxurious apartment at a price significantly below market value. The catch? The landlord lives out of state and can't meet you for a viewing but insists on an immediate deposit to secure the place.

Red Flags: Below-market rent, unavailable viewings, pressure to send money upfront.

Prevention Tips: Never send money without seeing the property and meeting the landlord in person. Utilize reputable rental platforms with user reviews and secure payment methods.

Scenario 2: The "We Can Save Your Home" Scam

Facing foreclosure? You receive a call from a company promising to halt the foreclosure process for a fee, often pressuring you to sign documents quickly.

Red Flags: Unsolicited calls or letters promising to stop foreclosure, high upfront fees, pressure to act fast.

Prevention Tips:

Scenario 3: The "Guaranteed High Returns" Investment Scheme

An investment opportunity promises high and guaranteed returns on a real estate project with minimal effort on your part. The details are vague, and pressure is applied to invest quickly.

Red Flags: Guarantees of high returns, lack of transparency about the investment details, pressure to invest quickly.

Prevention Tips: Conduct thorough research on any investment opportunity. Never invest based on pressure or promises of unrealistic returns. Consult a financial advisor before making any major investment decisions.

Scenario 4: The Fake Agent Fiasco

You find a seemingly perfect property online listed by a real estate agent. Upon contacting the agent, communication seems professional, but they request upfront fees for services like document processing or background checks.

Red Flags: Unfamiliar agent name, requests for upfront fees before providing basic services, difficulty verifying the agent's license.

Prevention Tips: Verify the agent's license through your state's real estate regulatory board website. Legitimate agents don't request upfront fees for standard services. Utilize reputable real estate platforms that verify agent credentials.

Scenario 5: The Wire Transfer Trap

You receive an email purporting to be from your closing agent with last-minute instructions to wire the closing funds to an unfamiliar account.

Red Flags: Unexpected changes in wire transfer instructions, pressure to send funds electronically, suspicious email addresses or phone numbers.

Prevention Tips: Verify all wire transfer instructions directly with your closing agent or lender in person or over a verified phone number. Never send money electronically based on unsolicited emails.

These are just a few examples, and scammers constantly develop new tactics. The key takeaway is to remain vigilant and prioritize safety.

5 Proven Strategies to Fend Off Real Estate Scams

By incorporating these preventative measures into your real estate journey, you can significantly reduce your risk of falling victim to a scam:

  1. Educate Yourself: Knowledge is power. Familiarize yourself with common real estate scams and red flags. Resources like government websites, consumer protection agencies, and reputable real estate platforms offer valuable information. Thoroughly research any investment opportunity and verify the legitimacy of the investment scheme and the parties involved.

  2. Work with Licensed Professionals: Partner with a reputable and licensed real estate agent and closing attorney. Licensed professionals are bound by a code of ethics and undergo background checks, offering an extra layer of security.

  3. Verify, Verify, Verify: Don't take anything at face value. Verify the identities and licenses of all individuals involved in your transaction. Cross-reference contact information and independently confirm details with your lender, closing agent, or rental platform.

  4. Beware of Urgent Requests: Pressure tactics are a hallmark of many real estate scams. Legitimate transactions don't require immediate decisions or urgent wire transfers. Take your time, do your due diligence, and don't be afraid to walk away from a deal that feels off.

  5. Protect Personal Information: Never share sensitive details with untrusted parties. Be cautious about sharing personal information online or over the phone and only provide it to trusted sources.

Join Clicks® for Safer Real Estate Transactions

Clicks®, a revolutionary online social media platform designed specifically for real estate enthusiasts, can further enhance your security and peace of mind.

Here's how Clicks® empowers you to have a safe and secure real estate experience:

Clicks® is committed to ensuring safe and secure real estate transactions for all its users. By joining Clicks®, you gain access to a platform provides resources to help you spot and avoid real estate scams. Don't fall victim to fraudsters—join Clicks® today and navigate the real estate market with confidence!