If you don’t think land sale scams happen on 30A, in Walton County, Florida, think again! Listen to the following scenario:
“Ring Ring!” My good client calls. She saw a lot for sale online on 30A, in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, in a beautiful subdivision just east of Rosemary Beach. I know the subdivision. She knows the subdivision. I’ve sold lots in there before, and so has my client. The price seems low. I dig to find the listing. It’s an outside agent who is not even using our local Emerald Coast Association of Realtors MLS system, so it took me some time.
Next, I thought, “Hmmmm, maybe the price is so low because this agent is not familiar with the 30A, South Walton real estate market. Or… the seller knows something we don’t know. Or… the seller wants to dump it. In any event, my buyer and I knew this would be a multiple offer situation. I sprang to it.
Scrambling to Write an Offer on the 30A lot
“Let’s go over asking price” my buyer requested. I called the listing agent to feel out the situation. Indeed, there were threats of multiple offers coming. I relayed this to my buyer, and she decided to go in even higher. In communications with the listing agent, she said the seller wanted a fast closing and preferred cash, as they were going out of the country. (Land Sale Scam alert – did you notice some of the red flags so far on this land scam?)
Within minutes, I wrote a clean offer, over asking price, with a fast closing and cash terms. The listing agent said it looked like the seller was going to accept it! After a half hour, and no word back, I texted her to follow up. Nothing. Then I called. She said…. “It was a SCAM! It was a FAKE SELLER!”
What? How could this be? I was shocked. I asked the listing agent how she knew. She said the REAL seller called and and said she found out her 30A, Walton County lot was listed for sale online! The problem was, she wasn’t selling it! Someone had assumed her identity and had posed as the seller.
How could this Land Sale Scam Happen on 30A?
“Did you know the supposed seller?” “Did you speak with the fake seller on the phone?” “How did the supposed seller find you?” I questioned the listing agent trying to find out how this happened. She said she had spoken to the fake seller numerous times on the phone. She said they found her through a Realtor lead site, supposedly. I actually have a hard time believing that, and think she was targeted because she was not familiar with the area, so wouldn’t have the right questions to ask.
How Land scammers work the fake sale
The land scam criminals will look for lots with owners out of the local area, who wouldn’t happen to drive by and see a “for sale” sign on their own property. They would pick a neighborhood, like this one on 30A in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, with out-of-town owners, or a remote area, where noticing the fake seller would be unlikely. They may contact an out-of-area real estate agent who doesn’t know the right questions to ask, but not always. They claim they are going out of the country, and want a fast closing. The prefer CASH. Then they have a fake drivers license to provide to the title agent. They have fake bank accounts. Once the funds are wired to them at closing, they disappear.
how can you avoid a land sale scam?
If you are a real estate agent, and you are contacted by someone who wants to sell a lot, do the following to avoid a land sale scam:
- Ask why the seller picked you as listing agent? If the answers don’t make sense, take note.
- Ask many detailed questions about the lot. Does it have public water and sewer, have the tap fees been paid, are there any easements, describe the property, describe the view, ask about association dues, association rules and regs, wetlands, environmental issues, zoning, price point, etc. If any answers don’t jive, get suspicious.
- Ask the “seller” to send you a copy of their driver’s license and passport. See if they look fake (like having a birth date that doesn’t make sense). You could also request a Skype or Zoom call.
- Express mail a letter to the address of the owner of record on the property appraiser’s website. That’s one thing the land scam criminal cannot fake. You will get a call back from the real owner if it’s a scam!
To learn more, read these articles about Florida land sale scams and selling lots: