Over the last few months we have seen more and more fraud locally. Here is one common scenario that we have encountered numerous times over the last 3 months:
- Buyer finds a local Realtor over the internet.
- Buyer claims to be from China and is working on an oil rig or the captain of a boat (which happens to be out to sea).
- Buyer executes a contract sight unseen and provides it to the Selling Agent for further delivery to the Listing Agent.
- Buyer provides a copy of their overseas bank account statement reflecting millions in the account as well as a certified bank check for delivery to the Closing Agent.
In each instance:
- Buyer’s correspondence to the Closing Agent and Selling Agent have similar verbiage (not exact), facts, and misspellings.
- Closing Agent requested a wire in lieu of a certified bank check.
- Buyer explained that he spoke to his financial representative and was advised that a certified bank check would be the quickest and most convenient way to transfer money.
- Closing Agent requested to speak with their financial representative. In only one case was a name provided but after further diligence it was determined the financial representative was not legitimate.
How can you better protect yourself?
- Ask the buyer the following questions: How did they hear of you? Do they want to physically see the property? Will they be sending all funds via a wire transfer?
- Analyze the correspondence they send you – any red flags?
- Are they continuing to push the need to use a certified bank check versus a wire?
- Do they only want to use a closing agent that will accept certified bank checks?
- Call your attorney and/or speak to your broker.
Thankfully the Selling Agents in the scenarios above were astute and immediately contacted an attorney with questions and information. Although it was not necessarily the intent of the Buyers to commit fraud on the Selling Agents, it was clearly an attempt to launder money through the Closing Agents trust account. If you suspect fraud or have any questions regarding the foregoing scenario, we urge you to consult with your real estate attorney.
Berlin Patten Ebling, PLLC
This communication is not intended to establish an attorney client relationship, and to the extent anything contained herein could be construed as legal advice or guidance, you are strongly encouraged to consult with your own attorney before relying upon any information contained herein.
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