The Phone Call
In my job I get a “what-the-heck” phone call almost every day. This week I received one that I had to share. What would you think if you found out that someone was posing as you, the listing agent, in an effort to steal money from unsuspecting consumers? Do I have your attention?
The Nigerian “Owner”
An agent from our Association called to say one of his REO listings showed up on Craigslist at an incredibly low rental price. The Listing is a very nice home and the rental price was ridiculously low, which is why a potential renter contacted the listing agent after driving by the home. The potential renter e-mailed the listing agent to confirm the rental asking price. This was the first indication to the listing agent, that his listing had been hijacked. Upon further inquiry the agent found that someone reportedly in or from Nigeria, had used the Agent’s name as his own. Here is the e-mail the “Nigerian Seller” sent to the consumer: (I’ve blurred out the agents name)
To sell the entire scam even more, this “owner” sent a copy of his “passport” to the consumer:
And they also were kind enough to send over their very own rental agreement:
What the Heck Just Happened?
To make it clear, the scammer took the listing agents name, applied it to mocked up Passport, took the listing agent’s listing and entered it in Craigslist. The scammer also created an e-mail address via yahoo with the listing agent’s name. Using this agent’s stolen identity he then proceeded to attempt to steal money from a renter. Luckily, in this case, the renter called the agent, from information on his For Sale sign to verify the terms of the e-mail.
Who do you go to?
After a variety of phone calls on behalf and by the Listing Agent, we found that no one really had jurisdiction over this issue. Although in Virginia this could possibly hold felony and misdemeanor charges, due to fraud, false pretense, electronic fraud, practicing real estate without a license, etc… if the person is really out of the US, the FBI (the only department that would actually take remote responsibility) said that an international crime such as this could not be pursued. Both the listing agent and myself are convinced that someone should be able to do more, but we haven’t been given guidance from our Real Estate Board or any governmental officials. If you can help or if you have had similar issues, please let me know. We’d be happy to keep working toward a resolve. Of course, this ranks right up there with holding money for the dethroned prince of Alibaba….
Can you prevent this?
I don’t know that this can really be prevented, but it illustrates a clear example of how vulnerable we all are. I offer these recommendations:
- Create a Google Alert for EVERY listing and for your name. Even if you don’t have a concern about your identity being stolen, you should still know if your listing is somewhere other than where you put it. There have been several instances of an agent’s listing being marketed poorly by the Seller or collaborated on some random site, as a Foreclosure when it really isn’t.
- Brokers should develop reporting policies for any type of acts, such as this. Try to develop a way to track these issues, to see if your company is a target.
- Know who you should report these types of issues to and if your Real Estate Board has authority to act on them.
- Enter your listings in systems like Postlets or other venues that make sure your listings are saturating the Internet, and that consumers maybe be enlighten to the fact that there are discrepancies between a bogus listing and your own.