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How to Spot Real Estate Fraud and Protect Yourself in the Market

Kim Clark, Association Executive

In the world of real estate, where ambitions of homeownership and investment intersect, there is a lurking threat that may derail these dreams in an instant: fraud.

Everyone is susceptible to the disastrous consequences of real estate fraud, including novice buyers and sellers, seasoned investors, and real estate professionals. We will examine the various aspects of fraud, typical schemes, and precautions to take in this article.

According to a recent article in REALTOR® Magazine, "home buyers and sellers say they’re not getting enough warnings about the risks of wire fraud and other scams targeting real estate transactions, and they want agents to educate them more about protection," citing a 2024 State of Wire Fraud Study just released by CertifID.

Real estate scams and fraud pose a significant threat to individuals, communities, and the integrity of the housing market. By understanding the dangers of fraud and taking proactive measures to safeguard against it.

The Facets of Real Estate Fraud

Real estate fraud encompasses a wide range of deceptive practices, each with the potential to cause financial and emotional harm. Some common forms of fraud include:

  1. Title Fraud: In title fraud, perpetrators illegally transfer ownership of a property by forging signatures or using stolen identities. They then proceed to mortgage or sell the property without the rightful owner's knowledge, leaving them with a hefty financial burden and a legal nightmare to unravel.

  2. Wire Fraud: Wire fraud is a crime that occurs when electronic communication, such as email or text messaging, is used to secure money or property through fraudulent fund transfers.

  3. Mortgage Fraud: This type of fraud involves misrepresentation or falsification of information on mortgage applications, such as inflating income or concealing debt. Mortgage fraud not only jeopardizes the lender's financial interests but also undermines the stability of the housing market.

  4. Foreclosure Rescue Scams: Predatory individuals prey on vulnerable homeowners facing foreclosure by offering fraudulent rescue services. These scams often involve false promises of saving the home in exchange for hefty upfront fees or transfer of property titles, leaving homeowners in deeper financial distress.

  5. Rental Scams: Fraudulent rental listings lure unsuspecting tenants with attractive offers for properties that either do not exist or are not owned by the purported landlord. Victims may find themselves out of pocket with no place to call home.

  6. Ransomware: A type of malware that cybercriminals install on users' computers with the intention of locking them out or encrypting their data so that it cannot be accessed without paying a ransom.

  7. Phishing: Fraudsters use unsolicited emails, text messages and phone calls from a purportedly legitimate company to obtain personal, financial and login credentials from potential victims.

The consequences of real estate scams and fraud go far beyond the immediate financial loss. Victims frequently experience worry, anxiety, and feelings of betrayal, while communities lose trust in the real estate industry. Furthermore, the instances of fraud can stifle economic growth and degrade the reputation of industry professionals.

Actions to Take to Reduce Risks:

  1. Educate Yourself: Knowledge is our best defense against fraud. Stay informed about the common tactics used by fraudsters and familiarize yourself with red flags that may indicate fraudulent activity.

  2. Verify Information: Conduct thorough due diligence before entering into any real estate transaction. Verify the legitimacy of sellers, agents, and property titles through reputable sources and independent research.

  3. Seek Professional Assistance: Enlist the expertise of trusted real estate professionals, such as attorneys, title agents, and Realtors®, who can guide you through the complexities of property transactions and provide valuable insights and safeguards.

  4. Exercise Caution Online: Be wary of unsolicited offers, suspicious emails, and unverified online listings. Exercise caution when sharing personal or financial information online and utilize secure channels for communication and transactions.

  5. Report Suspected Fraud: If you encounter or suspect fraudulent activity, do not hesitate to report it to the appropriate authorities, such as law enforcement agencies, regulatory bodies, or consumer protection agencies. Your vigilance could prevent others from falling victim to similar schemes.

Real estate professionals and consumers can work together to expose the dangers of fraud and enable one another to navigate the real estate landscape with confidence and safety.


Articles from NAR and REALTOR® Magazine from the past few years:

Check out the Wire Fraud section at NAR for more resources:


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