District Attorney Dan Dow continues to urge Real Estate professionals to be on alert for criminal fraud by thieves pretending to be property owners
Author: District Attorney
8/17/2023 4:38:53 PM
San Luis Obispo County is still experiencing an increase of incidents where persons suspected of being part of an organized crime group are impersonating the owners of undeveloped land and attempting to sell them.
District Attorney Dan Dow continues to urge all real estate professionals and undeveloped land owners to beware a new real estate scam that has been on the rise in San Luis Obispo County and neighboring counties. The impersonators are contacting local real estate agents as well as real estate agents from outside of San Luis Obispo County.
The District Attorney’s Office is aggressively working with all local real estate associations, title companies and the Office of the County Recorder. If you own an undeveloped lot within San Luis Obispo County, you are encouraged to routinely conduct an internet search to determine if your property is being listed for sale. Simply type in your property address, which will reveal several real estate marketing websites. Click on the on link and it will state whether or not the property is currently being marketed for sale.
If you discover that your property has been fraudulently listed for sale or sold, contact District Attorney Investigator Eric Vitale at (805) 781-5868.
The Office of the District Attorney is also asking all real estate sales professionals to stay current with the alerts being sent to your local associations and to ensure all absent sellers of vacant lots are being properly vetted.
How the scheme works
- The criminal searches public records to identify real estate that is free of mortgage or other liens and to identify the property owner. Properties often include vacant lots or rentals.
- The criminal, posing as the property owner, contacts a real estate agent to list the targeted property for sale and requests it being listed below the market value to generate immediate interest.
- The criminal, posing as the proper owner, requests preference for a cash buyer, and quickly accepts an offer.
- The criminal, posing as the property owner, refuses to sign closing documents in person, and requests a remote notary signing.
- The criminal or co-conspirator impersonates the notary and provides falsified documents to the title company or closing attorney.
- The title company or closing attorney unwittingly transfers closing proceeds to the criminal.
- All communication is electronic, not in person.
How it is discovered
- Often when recording the transfer of documents with the relevant county.
- This scheme has particularly affected the elderly and foreign real estate property owners as there are no means to automatically notify the legitimate owners.
- The burden of verification is on the real estate and title companies.
How to prevent falling victim
- Conduct open-source research for the identity and a recent photo of the purported seller.
- Request an in-person or virtual meeting and to see government issued identification.
- Be on alert when a seller accepts an offer below market value in exchange for receiving the payment in cash and/or closing quickly.
- Use trusted title companies and attorneys for the exchange of closing documents and funds.
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