Buying Advice

Real Estate Fraud Can Happen to Anyone, Even Realtors

Recently, my husband and I purchased a piece of property in Maine, close to where he grew up. It is a very rural area with little to no road traffic or neighbors. A few months after we closed, I received a letter from someone asking if we wanted to sell. It turns out he was a Realtor, and he was “looking” for property for himself. First off, even on a personal note, you always need to disclose if you are a licensed agent, which made me a little leery. I proceeded to tell him we had recently purchased and had no interest in selling.

Mysterious Survey

A few months later we made our way to Maine to start clearing an area to build a small camp. When we arrived, someone had had a survey done. All four sides of our property were tagged with orange tape and they had also cut down some small trees. We went to the town hall to ask if they had been there for any reason and they said no. We also asked the one abutting neighbor and they also said no. I also called all of the surveyors within a 50-mile radius and no one knew anything.

Before leaving to come home, we decided to purchase a live-feed game camera so we could watch all of the fun critters walking around. About one week after we arrived back home, we received a notice that we had several photos on our camera. Much to our surprise, the photos were of people walking around. One with a clipboard and three others pointing and wandering around.

Remote Property Concerns

What is important to understand is just how remote this property is. It is not a place that you can randomly wander onto. It is a dirt road and a makeshift path to get to our cleared-out area. While I have no problem with someone walking out in the woods and enjoying nature, my fear of someone trying to sell our property while we were out-of-state owners was becoming more real. I was sincerely concerned that either someone was going to get scammed into thinking our land was for sale or, even worse, thinking they purchased it and started building while we were not in the area to check on it.

Once again, I made a call to the town to see if, for some reason, they had a tax assessor or someone out there, but they told me no. Again, because this is a rural area, there is no local police department, so the Sheriff has to handle anything like this. Because we did not have our property posted for no trespassing, the Sheriff told me that there was nothing he could do to help me find these people that I had concerns about being scammed.

Taking Action

After spending about a week making calls and getting nowhere, my daughter and I made the trip back to Maine to see what we could find out and to put up the necessary signage. As much as we didn’t want to hang up the signs and scar the beautiful landscape of the woods, we felt we had no choice. At least if we had a way for people to contact us, maybe we could prevent someone from being scammed. To this day, we have no idea who those people were or what they were doing. Thankfully, we have friends and family who go by and check on things for us on a regular basis.

The good news is… we did manage to have some fun while we were there.

False Representation and Real Estate

Recently, a friend sent me a clip from a local Maine news station. The story involved a gentleman who called the town hall because he did not remember getting a tax bill. The town clerk told him it was because he was no longer the owner. He is now in litigation to get his property back, even though he was not the one that sold it.

Not only have I had someone potentially trying to sell our property, but I actually had someone try to have me sell their vacant land for them, only to find out that it was not theirs. It is my duty as a Realtor to do my due diligence and not just take someone’s word for something. This person was communicating through email and phone calls. They did manage to provide a copy of a driver’s license but my gut was telling me that something was just not right. I ended up doing a lot more digging and found that the real landowner was living in Hilo and had no intention of selling.

Because this is becoming more and more common, I reached out to one of our local Title & Escrow companies to see what they are doing to help in these situations. I was told that they will send out a hard copy letter through Federal Express to the address on file at the tax office to confirm that the Seller is legitimately trying to sell their property.

Protecting Yourself

Why am I taking the time to write this all down in a blog? Because if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. Are there things that you can do to protect yourself? Absolutely! First off, if something is too good to be true, it probably is. Secondly, something as easy as setting up your property with a Google Alert is free and can potentially save you a lot of hassle.

Here’s how:

  • Go to Google Alerts: Visit the Google Alerts website or search for “Google Alerts” in your browser.  If you have more than one Google account, make sure you are in the one that corresponds with the email you want to use for notifications.
  • Enter Search Terms: Input relevant keywords such as your property address, your name, or any other identifiers associated with your property.
  • Choose Alert Settings: Customize the alert settings based on your preferences, including frequency, sources, and types of results.
  • Review Alerts Regularly: Check your email or review alerts directly in your Google account to stay informed about any mentions related to your property.

By setting up Google Alerts, you’ll receive notifications whenever your property is mentioned online, allowing you to address any potential red flags or fraudulent activity quickly.

Stay Vigilant

As real estate fraud continues to evolve, it is essential to remain proactive in protecting yourself and your investments. By understanding potential threats and implementing some simple security measures, you can help to lessen the risk of falling victim to fraud.. Stay informed, stay vigilant, and take the necessary steps to safeguard your property.

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