The Golden Isles Realtors Association told agents working just north of Fla. to double-check seller’s identities, noting that fake IDs have already been reported.
BRUNSWICK, Ga. – Realtors in the Golden Isles may be asking sellers a few extra questions about their identities these days, but rest assured, those questions are to protect property owners from scammers, according to the Golden Isles Realtors Association.
Scammers are impersonating property owners and listing properties they don’t own for sale. It’s a sophisticated operation that involves perpetrators conducting extensive research on real property owners and in some cases fake IDs.
“Almost all of the reported incidents involve land lots on St. Simons Island and Sea Island where the property owner’s residential address is outside of our area,” said Lauren Zinskie, an MLS and education specialist for the association.
The scammers will place phone calls to Realtors and claim to be the property owner, Zinskie said. They tell the Realtor they are out of town on vacation for an extended period or that they have fallen into financial hardship and need to sell immediately. In some cases, they have produced photo IDs that include actual driver’s license numbers of the real property owners and other license information that is correct, all except for the photo and the address. An actual work address of the real property owner was used instead of their home address in one instance.
“It’s terrifying to be involved in,” Zinskie said.
The implications if one of the phony sales were to actually close could be devastating, she said. Most closing attorneys are good about doing their due diligence to ensure the buyers and sellers are who they claim to be, but it would only take one sale to close to scam someone out of a lot of money, she said.
“To our knowledge, none of this activity has actually resulted in a sale,” Zinskie said. “Usually, the rightful property owner alerts the agent that they did not give permission to sell the property, or the closing attorney cannot verify the identity of the seller at closing, exposing the scam.”
That is why Erin Vaughn, president of the Realtor’s Association, said the association is putting the word out about the scam.
“We want to make sure we are selling the right property from the actual property owner,” Vaughn said.
The association is encouraging property owners to check their properties online to see if they are listed for sale on sites like Zillow or Realtor.com.
Zinskie said real estate industry professionals in the Golden Isles are aware of these scams and are doing everything they can to thwart would-be scammers, who have been able in some cases to trick even the most seasoned agents into listing a property.
Anyone who feels they have been contacted by the scammers or who may have been a victim of fraudulent activity should contact the proper authorities, she said.
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