Though the housing recovery is trucking along, that doesn't mean real estate scams have gone away. Home owners have been duped out of an average of $4,000 to $5,000 from scams, but even five-figure losses aren’t uncommon for those who have fallen prey to fake loan modifications and other housing fraud. Highlighted here are four of the most common real estate scams today:
1. Rental scams: Scammers illegally pull online listing information from a home for sale and re-post it as a rental on another site, such as Craigslist. They’ll often ask for money upfront, in the form of a security deposit or broker fee, from prospective tenants. Scammers often advertise the home at a low price and collect application fees from several prospective tenants in order to hold the property for them.
Warning signs: Be cautious of wiring money or paying any upfront fee before you’ve met the agent or signed the contract. Also, be skeptical if they can’t show you the property when you ask.
2. Loan modification scams: Scammers may offer “fake foreclosure counseling, phony forensic loan auditing, nonexistent mass rejoinder lawsuits, bait-and-switch ploys, leaseback programs, and fraudulent ‘government’ modification programs,” Forbes reports.
Warning signs: Be skeptical if anyone asks for money for foreclosure counseling. Foreclosure counseling is free from agencies like the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Also, always contact your lender directly to work through a modification process. Don’t allow someone to do that on your behalf.
3. Workshop scams: An investment guru will host a get-rich-quick real estate investing seminar and have you sign up for a course that is free or low-cost. The investor may then give you actual properties to invest in if you offer up thousands of dollars in advance. They make bold promises that you’ll become a millionaire, but then nothing ever happens. Also, a form you may have signed initially to take the class may prevent you from taking legal action against the instructor to recoup your money.
Warning signs: While not every workshop instructor is a scammer, be sure to check out the program thoroughly before signing up. Check the company’s rating with the Better Business Bureau. Also, check if it’s linked to a reputable industry association.
4. Paperwork scams: This is a lower dollar amount, but very common and successful scam. Since property records are public information, scammers will looks for new home owners. They send a letter in the mail posed as a bill. The bill states a certain amount is due, usually around $80.00, for copies of your deed. The notices are very official looking, and many people don't even question it because the dollar amount isn't that high.
Warning signs: Be suspicious of any bills after closing on a house. Everything is settled at closing, so any paperwork after the fact should be quesitoned. Contact your Realtor to help determine if it is legit.