Here are some common tips or red flags that that the e-crimes coordinator of the Regina City Police has suggested that agents look out for. The following are points for real estate agents to avoid becoming potential victims of fraud:
- Questions why someone would be contacting the real estate agent, offering to purchase property sight unseen.
- Look for warning signs in the content of the email; broken English, poor spelling, poor sentence structure, use of words such as “god bless you”, and many references to the agent being a “friend”. The suspect will often use names that are “biblical” in nature.
- They make references to sending cash as a down payment or for full payment of the property, stating they are unable to do a bank transfer. They then state the money will be sent via a courier service. The courier service is not an actual company, but may have a name similar to the more well known companies such as Fed-ex or UPS. There may be references to there being a website for the courier company, with there being an actual website, but once in the website, there will be links that do not work, or contact information that is not valid. There will be contact phone numbers which will not match to addresses given for the courier’s offices.
- The suspect will state they are part of a major corporation, and will make references to their lawyer who they will state is part of an established law office. Email addresses will be through hotmail, yahoo, live, gmail etc. The majority of larger businesses will have their own server and the email address will be part of that.
- Further in the proceedings it will likely be revealed that the suspect is located outside of the country, often the United Kingdom.
- The suspect will ask the agent to forward them copies of their identification (drivers license, passport, SIN, etc.) in order to forward the money to them for the property. By providing this information the agent is increasing the likelihood that they could be victims of identification theft.
- The suspect may request to meet the agent in a location outside of your city to facilitate the deal such as Toronto. This increases the personal risk of the agent.
- The suspect may say they are in one location, they will send a cheque or money order, which will be a forgery from a completely different location with an unrelated name on the cheque. The suspect will say they have sent too much money with instructions to forward part of the payment to an unrelated third location.
- If something does not seem likely and seems too good to be true, it likely is. Always let common sense prevail.
- Use the internet as a tool to protect yourself. Do internet searches of person and company names you are given and do further internet searches of any websites you are given. The agent that is in contact with the suspect is likely not the first person that has been approached by them, and there may be postings to the internet from people who have already fallen victim to similar frauds involving the same suspect names.
Several real estate agents have their own websites, and have profiles on Social Networking websites (Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, etc). Be aware of how much personal information are on the agents own website and their profile on the Social Networking websites. This information can be seen by anyone in the world, and the amount of information that is available can provide the means for the criminal to develop a manner in which to communicate with them, allowing them to groom them, establish a relationship, developing a trust and friendship to assist with the fraudulent transaction.
It is important to remember that everyone on the internet is a complete stranger until it can be proven otherwise. The internet allows a person to maintain a certain level of anonymity – they can give themselves any age, sex, profession, and be located wherever they want.
Although I don’t believe that scams are an everyday occurrence in Saskatoon, they do happen and I have had first hand experience with someone trying to impersonate me on kijiji. It does happen and as REALTORS®, we can never be too certain who’s at the other end of the call or email.
Saskatoon real estate agent
Century 21 Fusion