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Fraud Alert: REALTORS® are scam targets

posted Apr 20, 2018, 2:56 PM by Joyce Evans   [ updated Apr 20, 2018, 2:56 PM ]
Whether or not you want to believe it, REALTORS® are among favorite targets for scammers. Fraud can happen to anyone. Whether you're old or young, anyone can be scammed by a swindler. One trusting moment, one bad decision or just one second of bad luck and those hard-earned dollars are gone. Each year, thousands of people, including REALTORS®, are bilked out of billions of dollars by con artists who have no consciences. Educating yourself is the best defense against fraud, identity theft, and scams. 

Recently, a PSAR member was contacted by a telemarketing scam (the same thing could happen to you). Remember, your greatest threat may not come from a criminal on the street, but from a scam artist sitting in a boiler room on the phone. A boiler room is a room with fraudulent phone salespeople who contact businesses with phony offers. These telemarketers use “pitch sheets,” or prepared scripts.

In this recent case, the scammer called the PSAR member to complain that their online profile was missing important contact information. The conversation between the REALTOR® and a scammer named Mark went something like this:

> REALTOR®: “Which online profiles are missing information about myself?”

> SCAMMER: “All of them, including Zillow, Trulia, Redfin, and Realtor.com.”

> REALTOR®: “But, I haven’t posted any profiles about myself lately.”

> SCAMMER: “It doesn’t matter. These companies automatically prepare profiles on real estate agents, but they do a lousy job. Your phone number and e-mail address are missing. But, our company fixes and completes your online profiles so potential clients can contact you. You would be an idiot if you didn’t use us.”

> REALTOR®: “How much does this cost?”

> SCAMMER: “We have a special running right now. We accept credit cards or we can take the money directly from your bank account. But, the price goes up soon if you don’t accept this offer right now. We just need your credit card or bank account number to take advantage of this offer.”

Understand that the best telemarketing con artists are high-pressure, smooth talkers who are very good at separating people from their money. Among their favorite lines: “We guarantee everything;” “We are privy to inside information;” Buy now or forever lose your opportunity.”

Be aware of identity theft. This crime is rampant and threatens our nation's belief in personal privacy. It involves the theft and misuse of a consumer's name and reputation. An ID thief will use your name, Social Security number, credit card number or some other piece of your personal information to apply for a credit card, make unauthorized purchases, gain access to your bank accounts or obtain loans under your name. Never disclose personal information and banking information to someone with whom you did not initiate contact. Avoid disclosure of key identity information, such as your driver's license number, ATM number and other key pieces of your identity.

Also be aware of Internet fraud. Many con artists use cyberspace to promote their scams. One person with a computer, modem, and pseudonym can tap into the web and dangle a too‑good‑to‑be‑true, “Crimes of the Net” offer before millions as they communicate in a universe without borders.

Earlier this year, the National Association of REALTORS® warned its members of a new rip-off that targeted online leads, which are the lifeblood of many real estate businesses. This scam began with an e-mail to a REALTOR® offering an online lead from platforms such as Realtor.com and Zillow, which have been successful in generating potential clients with ZIP code-targeted aids and preferred placement on their sites.

But, this scheme offered one pre-qualified lead as a trial for Realtor.com’s lead generation service. To receive the lead’s full contact information, which reportedly included a phone number and e-mail address, it would cost the agent $10.

Once the victim paid the money, then they received a one-sentence follow-up e-mail from the “lead” who said they were away for a few days and would contact the agent when they’re back in town. Unfortunately, when the victim, excited about a potential million-dollar sale, researched the name of the buyer, they noticed the same name all over the Internet listed as many other agents’ “exclusive” client. In fact, the lead’s preferred area, price range, and specific listing address varied based on who the scammer was targeting. Simply put, the scammer had impersonated Realtor.com’s administration and sent the name and details of the lead to hundreds of real estate agents.

Realtor.com confirmed that they never request payment simultaneously with the delivery of a lead. To check on a lead, agents can quickly log in to realtor.com and see their leads in the Dashboard, under Contacts (for agents) or Performance/Leads (all customers).

Remember, scams succeed because they look like the real thing and catch you off guard when you’re not expecting it. Scammers are getting smarter and taking advantage of new technology and new products or services to create believable stories that will convince you to give them your money or personal information. Be wary of claims that promise immediate, effortless and “guaranteed” results. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.