A real estate scam that recently surfaced in Southwest Florida serves as a timely warning to those in the business of selling property and/or representing agents and brokers in the selling of property; be familiar with the red flags of the notorious advance fee fraud. Although this scheme has many variations, one goal remains the same and that is to trick the “target” into cashing a fraudulent check or money order, followed by a request to “disburse” funds through a wire transfer.
That’s exactly how the scam unfolded for a local real estate agent who received an e-mail from a “buyer” interested in purchasing a home listed for sale on an online website. The buyer told the realtor he was currently living in the United Kingdom and would be conducting business via e-mail. In order to make the deal look plausible, the “buyer” also contacted a local real estate attorney to assist in the transaction. After e-mails and an executed contract were exchanged between the realtor and the con-artist, the attorney - who had never been retained by the scammer – received a cashier’s check for $166,530.00 with instructions to contact the “buyer” immediately so funds could be properly distributed. Fortunately, it didn’t take long for the attorney to realize he was being set up in an elaborate advance fee scheme.
If you or your business sells products or services online, you may be targeted in a scheme to defraud. In response to your advertisement (listing), you might receive a generous offer from a potential buyer and accept it. The Lee County Sheriff's Office encourages you follow these simple safety tips:
• Be wary of businesses or individuals that operate out of post office boxes or mail drops and do not have a street address. Also, be suspicious when dealing with persons who do not have a direct telephone line and can only conduct business online.
• Be very careful when conducting financial transactions with an individual who is out of the country.
• Be cautious of e-mails that provide too much personal information in an attempt to convince the reader the contents are true, urgent response is required, or vague and noncommittal answers to important questions.
If you would like to report a fraud, scam or identity theft, contact the fraud line at 239-477-1242. If you would like a Fraud Specialist to speak to your organization or community group, please contact 239-477-1400.