REALTOR® Safety Series: Scams Affecting REALTORS® and Their Business

Most of us want to take people at their word and believe that they have the most honest of intentions. Sadly, that has never been a totally realistic expectation to have. Many say the problem has increased with the internet, but it may be that the internet has just complicated matters by offering new ways to play old tricks. Most of the following scams you will find on either the internet or in your mailbox.

Many times, the REALTOR® is not the victim directly, but these crimes can tarnish the industry and also compromise the trust of the public. As the country begins to climb out of one of the worst recessions of the last century, we want everyone to have the best possible experience when buying and selling real estate. Part of that is knowing all that can possible deter that pleasant experience. Read the following for more information and what you can do in the event that you suspect you or your clients are the targets of a real estate scam artist.

Craigslist Rental Scams: REALTORS® and their sellers have been increasingly victimized by individuals taking their listings or photos from a website and posting them on bulletin sites to try and secure deposits from prospective renters. The houses may be vacant or owner occupied. Fortunately, people are usually well aware of the scams on bulletins sites and realize a listing for a four bedroom house in an affluent neighborhood doesn’t rent for $500.

If the listing is occupied, the owners can be alarmed if they find people casing their property or looking in their windows to size up the living room. An owner’s shaken confidence can be damaging when a listing agent is legitimately trying to sell their property.

If you find a listing has been hijacked, flag it for Craigslist to remove and if you like, contact the FTC and FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Large Homes, All Cash, Quick Escrow…: You usually lose nothing but time and gain only frustration with deals that seem too good to be true. A prospective buyer claims to have X amount of money, all cash, and needs a quick closing. Everything is perfect until the time comes to submit the earnest money or sign the papers. Always go on instinct and trust your judgment, and get verification.

Leads for FSBO Listings: Someone claims to have connections with frustrated FSBOs who need REALTORS® or have other listing leads. This individual then attempts to sell these names for $10-15 a head. Usually they claim to get their leads through an affiliation with either a reputable brokerage firm or educational institution. The names are either of FSBOs with no interest in working with an agent or home owners who are not even in the market to sell. Either way, you are still out $100-150 (these “leads” are often presented as a package deal) with little room for recourse since the situation is hard to prosecute. Always approach such offers with extreme caution.

Overseas Transactions: People from overseas purchase property all the time. However, scams originate overseas as often as they do locally. It is always a good policy to enter into transactions with people you can see past an e-mail and with verified funding.

Real Estate Scam for Lawyers: Someone will contact a real estate agent expressing interest in a large property. They will then request a recommendation for an attorney to set up a trust for escrow, sending a cashier’s check to the attorney for an exorbitant amount of money. After the deal is written, the scammer then rescinds and requests a refund back when the original check was no good in the first place. This is just a minor twist on the classic confidence scam that can still lead to a very unfortunate outcome.

Resources: If or when you have a brush with any of these scenarios, contact your local police department, the Federal Trade Commission, the Better Business Bureau, and your state’s Attorney General:

Oregon Department of Justice
1162 Court Street NE
Salem, OR  97301-4096
(503) 378-4400

Washington Attorney General
1125 Washington Street SE
PO Box 40100
Olympia, WA  98504-0100
(360) 753-6200
Online Complaint Form

Next time in our series: Vacants, Squatters, and Occupy Portland.

REALTOR® Safety Series: Personal Safety in the Field

Real estate is a very personal business. You’re not selling people a blender or a car. You are helping your clients navigate their purchase or sale of property, potentially one of the most stressful times in their life. As such, every phone call, every inquiry is a new opportunity to make that personal contact and foster business.

We are coming out of an unprecedented and volatile chapter of real estate history. Among all the well-intentioned buyers and sellers out there, there still remain people looking to take advantage of a real estate professional for no reason other than the fact that they saw your name and phone number on a billboard, a yard sign, or a website. It’s an occupational hazard, and you should be prepared always to protect you and yours.

Over the next few weeks we will be highlighting some of the many safety concerns impacting REALTORS® today and heighten our subscribers’ awareness. The first is, perhaps, the most important. Money and personal effects can be replaced; you, however, cannot.

Crude, Lewd, and Rude

You’ve heard it probably from a colleague before. Crank callers and lewd suggestions on the other end of the phone line at 2am in the morning often lead to nothing other than lost sleep for the recipient. But this can easily escalate into harassment. If this does become the case, keep a log of the times and number of calls and the nature of these calls. Be sure to keep all text messages to forward to law enforcement. They will have other instructions and suggestions when you contact them.

Luring to a Vacant Property or Meeting Alone

Never meet a new client alone. “Stranger danger” doesn’t go away after you trade in your short pants. At RMLS™, we have received calls from agents who have corresponded with individuals who become irate and even threatening when the agent refuses to meet the “client” alone. Red flag. A true prospective client will not have a problem following your office’s policy of meeting in the office or a public place like a café or restaurant. Also, be wary of people asking overtly personal questions, asking to work specifically with a particular type of person. There have been reports of people requesting to work with only female agents alone, for example.

Robbery During a Showing or Open House

It happens. Usually this happens when it’s a slow day and there are no others in the house. If that is the case, give them your wallet. Never confront your assailant. They are unpredictable, and, therefore, very dangerous, if cornered. Usually, they will push you or anything blocking their way to escape, but consider the alternative. Let’s not…just give them the wallet.

Other Ideas

Always be aware of your surroundings, and always trust your instincts and intuition.

  • Tell people where you are going and when you’re expected back.
  • Take someone with you.
  • Take down your client’s license plate number and leave it with someone at the office.
  • Never underestimate the power of self-defense training and pepper spray.
  • When showing a house, don’t let your client come between you and the door.
  • Keep your phone on your person and in an accessible area.

Always limit your vulnerability as much as possible when alone or meeting someone for the first time.

Further Reading

Go to for more information and tips on keeping safe in a variety of scenarios. Following are articles with more information:

Next time: Scams Specific to Real Estate

Mobile App for On-The-Go Realtor® Safety

Mobile App for On-The-Go Realtor® Safety

Available for purchase at the iTunes Store

Although June is not Realtor® Safety Month (September is!), it’s important to keep up-to-date with any safety resources that become newly available, whether it’s “Safety Month” or not. Often times, real estate professionals are left alone when showing an open house or when meeting a potential client. These occasions can be potentially dangerous. We’ve just stumbled across a mobile application that may help real estate professionals in the event of an emergency. We thought we’d share it with you!

Real Alert – The Safety App for Realtors®

Developed by Michelle Jones, an Austin Realtor®, Real Alert is a mobile application compatible with iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad devices. It is available in the iTunes Store for $1.99. This application has several key functions enabling users to get help quickly:

  • Quick Tap Alarm Button
  • Quick Tap Call 911 Button
  • Locate Nearest Hospital Button
  • Quick Tap Alert A Friend
  • Built-In Flashlight

For more information or to purchase the mobile app, click here.

Other Resources:

National Association of Realtors® Field Guide to Safety. Visit NAR’s website for safety guides, handouts and tips. Click here.

Selling Safely Brochure. Home sellers need to learn safety practices, too. We have recently revamped the RMLS Selling Safely Brochure and it’s now available to download. This brochure is great for agents to give to their clients! It provides tips for clients on selling their home safely and has a place for the agent to provide their contact information! Click here to download the brochure.

Remember that old saying, it’s better to be safe than sorry!

Mobile App for On-The-Go Realtor® Safety

Scam Alert

Attention all Realtors®

Numerous Realtors® have reported receiving emails and phone calls from a person out-of country who claims to need assistance with an all-cash real estate purchase. The caller may also insist on the need to retain a lawyer with a trust account, and requests a referral. The Realtor® or referred lawyer soon receives a substantial check (reports are from $150,000 to $500,000) to be deposited into broker trust account or lawyer trust account. Soon thereafter another call is received from a person purporting to be the attorney for the scammer in his home country. The foreign attorney says that the funds were sent out of country without appropriate government authority and must be immediately returned in order to avoid sanctions and penalties. Holder of the funds is pressed to wire the money without delay. Needless to say, the purchaser and the check are a fraud.

If you receive questionable requests for service or referrals, be cautious and inquire further.