Saturday, June 18, 2011

Desperate Times Bring Desperate Scams

As I watch the real estate market floundering along at it's bottom, and wonder just when we will return to what I will loosely call the “New Normal”, I am reminded that hard times like these bring out the scam artists. This week I have enjoyed a few scam emails from who knows where, suggesting that I might be a possible beneficiary of a diseased wealthy individual.

One says in part, “Hello, I am Mr. Ahmed Khizer Khan , a citizen of United Arab Emirates and I also work with a well known bank here in the U. A .E . I have in my bank the existence of a big amount of money that belongs to a customer, Mr. Daniel HOWLAND. The fund is now without any claim because Mr. Daniel died in a deadly earthquake in China in 2008.I want your cooperation so as to make the bank send you the fund as the present beneficiary.” Well, this makes me smile, and click the “junk” key—but sometimes people fall for this stuff, thinking there might be something out there for nothing.

That same day I received a warning from the Board of Realtors saying they were investigating a local real estate scam where a Realtor was asked—by email—to list a property. This is very common, and Realtors get these requests all the time. In this case the Realtor wrote a listing contract and a comparative market analysis, sent it off to the seller where it was signed and returned. Luckily the agent sent the “hard copy” to the address on the county tax card. When the actual owner received the listing contract they immediately called the agent and said they had not contacted anyone and were not selling their home.

And then from a real estate seller came this item, he had a home with 12 acres for sale for $389,000. As he tells the story he got an email from a guy named Victor. He wrote me and said, “I saw your ad on eBay and want to find out more about that property. Could you tell me more? My wife and I love it, this is just what my family and I have been looking for.”

Over the course of a month they wrote back and forth, and finally he said, “Okay, here’s what I’d like to do. I want to put half of the money down on the property, and then I’ll send my wife and children over with the other half. We’re in Liberia, and right now this is a war zone, and I’m really afraid my wife and children might get hurt. I’m really scared for their lives, and I want to get them over there.”
A week later, after talking to his bank, the buyer wrote: “Okay, here’s what my bank told me. What you need to do is open up an offshore bank account in your name. It’s going to cost $5,000. I have a friend in the States who will give you the money to open up the account, so you don’t have to use your own money. My friend is in Florida, he will send a check to you.”

About a week later, the check came. It was a bank check, from a bank in Florida.
Now our guy tells me he thinks this is a scam, but wants to see how far this will go. Immediately he took the check to the bank and said, “I want to open up a brand new account.” He did that, because he wasn’t sure if the check was real, and the deal could still be real. But if it is a scam he wanted to know how it works? He wondered., “Do they suck money from my account or something like that, once I open an account?”
The check is beautiful, he says, it’s an actual check from Florida, it’s got the watermarks on it, it’s perfect. I put it in the account and I asked them, “If I put this in an account, when can I write against it?” She said, “Two days.” I said, “When will you know this is could be a bad check?” She said, “Probably about ten or fifteen days.” They said that if the check bounces, I would be responsible for the amount. The next day I get this email: “Immediately send the $5,000 and open up the offshore account. Here’s the guy you’re going to send it to.”
So the scam is that they give you a fraudulent check, a fake check, and then they ask you for part of that check to be sent by wire transfer to them, so that money comes out of your account. Then ten days later, boom! You’re responsible for that check and whatever money you sent to the offshore bank. The real estate had nothing to do with anything--it could as easily have been a car or boat that was for sale.
I'm not saying that all the good deals and exciting opportunities out there are scams, but given the state of the economy, it's worth being skeptical until you know something is true—I'm just saying.
Dane Hahn is a real estate professional in New Hampshire and Florida. You can reach him at or by phone at 941-681-0312 or 603-566-5460

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