Fake Seller/Fake Buyer Alert
February 2, 2023
RICHMOND – The Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation is aware of incidents in neighboring states involving fraudulent sellers and buyers attempting to sell a property they don’t own. The scam commonly targets unencumbered and vacant lots owned by persons out of state. With this scam, Virginia real estate licensees may be contacted by a person acting as a seller seeking to have a vacant lot sold quickly and under market value.
Licensees approached with requests are advised to verify that the seller matches the person on the land deed. Section 54.1-2137 of the Code of Virginia requires a written brokerage agreement between a client and a licensee. One can also look up the owner of record on city and county websites. In addition, ask for photo identification to ensure it matches the public record.
Here are some “red flags” to look out for:
- The buyer/seller is traveling on vacation (sometimes abroad), claims they cannot meet in person, and must do everything by email.
- The seller has a family emergency, needs a quick cash sale, and will accept substantially less than full price if they can close in a very short time.
- The email address or phone numbers are from another country. Of course, there are legitimate buyers and sellers who live overseas, but this does raise a flag that should be checked.
- The photo IDs, such as drivers’ licenses or passports, are barely legible.
- The seller does not require an Earnest Money Deposit, or a low Earnest Money Deposit combined with a quick closing (in order to obtain quick proceeds before a scam is discovered).
- The buyer/seller makes constant excuses, is not able to perform the terms of the contract or is not returning paperwork.
- The buyer/seller gets very angry at the licensee as the transaction gets closer to closing and applies pressure on the licensee to make sure the deal goes through. Sometimes they offer an incentive such as commission bonuses or promising other opportunities to buy or sell.
If you have questions or suspect you have been approached by a fake seller or fake buyer, please contact DPOR’s general complaint inquiry line at (804) 367-8504. If you encounter a property owner that has been a victim of an attempt to sell their property without their consent, please report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at www.IC3.gov.