Fake Sellers, Fake Landlords: What’s Real Anymore?

The advice for anyone you meet in real estate? Trust but verify – which means don’t fully trust anyone who isn’t your mother. Scammers continually find new ways to separate you, your buyer or your seller from their money.

ORLANDO, Fla. – Florida Realtors has sent out several articles concerning the uptick in scammers, whether that be a fake seller of vacant land or a fake landlord who doesn’t actually own the rental property or tips on how to avoid being scammed. Watch for red flags so this doesn’t happen in your transaction. (Also see: Scam Involving Sale of Vacant Lots is Back: Don’t Get Fooled Again!) There is also the twist where scammers fraudulently change the corporate docs online in attempt to get you to think they are who they claim they are.

But what can you do should you actually catch the fraudulent transaction? Depending on the details of what occurred in the scam, you may have different options. For example, a false landlord posting on Zillow can be reported to Zillow directly so the offending post can be removed. If this is something posted on the MLS, contact the MLS.

The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) was created in 2000 by a task force that includes the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C) and the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA).

Per the IC3 website, www.ic3.gov, the “mission of the Internet Crime Complaint Center is to provide the public with a reliable and convenient reporting mechanism to submit information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation concerning suspected Internet-facilitated criminal activity and to develop effective alliances with law enforcement and industry partners. Information is analyzed and disseminated for investigative and intelligence purposes to law enforcement and for public awareness.”

While IC3 tackles other types of crimes, this article focuses on internet crime specifically so it’s important to recognize how that is defined. The website clarifies this in its FAQs as “any illegal activity involving one or more components of the Internet, such as websites, chat rooms, and/or email. Internet crime involves the use of the Internet to communicate false or fraudulent representations to consumers. These crimes may include, but are not limited to, advance-fee schemes, non-delivery of goods or services, computer hacking, or employment/business opportunity schemes.”

How could this appear in the real estate world? Fake listings or wire fraud scams via email, for example, would qualify.

Who can file a complaint with IC3? Either the person directly affected by the fraud or someone on their behalf is able to file a complaint. They will ask for:

  • The victim’s name, address, telephone number and email address (your information if you’re the victim, someone else’s info if you’re filing the complaint on their behalf of another person)
  • Any financial transaction information (i.e. account information, transaction date and amount and who received the money)
  • The subject’s (aka alleged scammer) name and any information you have about them (name, address, telephone, email, website, IP address)
  • Specific details on what occurred and any other information to support your complaint

Keep all documentation regarding the situation. Should the appropriate authorities conduct an investigation, you’ll have copies readily available. 

It’s also important to note that the IC3 doesn’t conduct any investigations. It sends the complaint information to the relevant oversight authorities for them to do so.

Per the IC3 website, types of evidence that could become useful in the course of an investigation may include, but are not limited to:

  • Canceled checks
  • Credit card receipts
  • Money order receipts
  • Certified or other mail receipts
  • Wire receipts
  • Virtual currency receipts
  • Pre-paid card receipts
  • Envelopes (if you received items via FedEx, UPS, or U.S. Mail)
  • Facsimiles
  • Pamphlets or brochures
  • Phone bills
  • Printed or preferably electronic copies of emails (if printed, include full email header information)
  • Printed or preferably electronic copies of web pages
  • Hard drive images
  • PCAP files containing malicious network traffic
  • Network, host system, and/or security appliance logs
  • Copies of malware
  • Chat transcripts and/or telephone logs

Meredith Caruso is Associate General Counsel for Florida Realtors
Note: Information deemed accurate on date of publication

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