SWFL real estate market hit by thieves trying to steal and sell land

A growing problem in Southwest Florida’s hot real estate market is thieves stepping up to steal and sell land that doesn’t belong to them.

It almost happened to Realtor Peter Davis.

“We were doing everything at that point by an email,” Davis said.

It’s a recipe for property fraud. One person claiming to be a foreign landowner, a couple of phone calls, many emails, and thousands of dollars up for grabs.

“I sent him a listing agreement with my recommended price, which was $169,000. And he signed the listing agreement said that he thought the price was fine,” Davis said.

Davis said it seemed like any other listing at first.

“He said that he found me on Zillow,” Davis said, adding that wasn’t unusual.

Davis went about his job and advertised the property for sale.

“A couple from Miami called me and had seen it online and wanted to make an offer,” Davis said.

The couple offered $150,000 for the Gulf access lot in Cape Coral. The seller agreed.

Davis sent the contract to his title company.

“My title company called me and they started asking me questions about this new deal that I sent them,” Davis said. “Did he say he was German? I said, Yeah. Did he say he was traveling? I said, Yeah.”

The red flags were everywhere.

Davis called the buyers and told them to hold off on payment.

The purported seller attempted to use another title company, but when that didn’t work, he sent over a photo of his passport.

By then, the jig was up.

“I just was irritated, and that I’d spent the money and the time and the effort and then my buyers, you know, had their hopes, you know, got their hopes up and then dashed,” Davis said.

Eventually, the man stopped pushing and disappeared.

“Luckily, my title company had seen this already. And so they were able to, you know, intercede,” Davis said.

Davis said he is glad he didn’t fall for it, but not everyone can say the same.

In August, a French woman’s Southwest Florida land was sold right from under her and both the realtor and title company on the sale didn’t catch it.

Cape Coral police arrested a man from Texas around the same time who they say was part of a similar scheme to impersonate people and sell vacant lots.

State Rep. Mike Giallombardo, R-Cape Coral, said realtors have seen that happen in Cape Coral.

“There has been occasion when the new buyers purchase the land, and they build a home and they’re about done with it, getting ready to move in, they find out that the seller wasn’t the actual owner of the lot,” Giallombardo said. “A lot of folks don’t know this, and they don’t realize it until it’s too late.”

Giallombardo is in talks with realtors to see how this can be stopped.

Davis said he lost a couple of hundred dollars advertising the lot that wasn’t for sale. He and other realtors are being extra careful.

“When you’re dealing with with with a foreign owner, or someone who says they’re a foreign owner, then it just comes it really comes down to just doing the best you can at this point,” Davis said.

If you’re looking to buy a lot or you have one, you can do your due diligence too.

Our local clerk’s offices offer a free property fraud alert service. Landowners can fill out a form, and you’ll be notified any time a mortgage, deed or other land document is recorded in your name.

Lee County Clerk of Court Property Fraud Alert Services

Charlotte County Clerk of Court Fraud Alert

Collier County Clerk of Court Official Land Records Risk Alert 


 

The Cape Coral Police Department sent out a press release on Wednesday warning of the scam and how to protect yourself.

Realtors, title companies and lot owners should be keenly aware of a current common scam involving illegally and fraudulently selling lots away from unknowing owners.

The Cape Coral Police Department has received numerous complaints of title fraud occurring or being attempted. The scam has shown that suspects are compromising the identities of the legitimate landowners and attempting to sell real property in Cape Coral.  These reports have primarily affected victims living out of the country but have also affected landowners living domestically. These scammers are providing fraudulent documents as identification to impersonate the legitimate owners.

Many of the complaints have been related to vacant unimproved lots located in various sections of the City.  Throughout the numbers investigations our detectives have been able to develop similar trends in each of the listings and subsequent closing transactions.

Here are some things Cape Coral Police Detectives recommend realtors and title companies look out for when being contacted to sell properties:

  • The scammers are wanting a valuation of the property and express a desire for a quick sale and closing
  • The scammers are asking realtors to list the property below market value
  • The scammers are only communicating via text messaging or email, and are typically “unavailable” by telephone
  • The scammers are usually unable to answer questions related to the property, such as assessments paid, sea wall, or other improvements.
  • Scammers may say they live in one country and have documents “notarized” from another country; the scammers may give wire instructions to an account in a third country different from the previous two
  • Check the documents the seller provides for authenticity
  • Foreign-based notarization should include Apostle to help verify legitimacy of identification
  • Try to contact the real owners utilizing information from the previous purchase
  • Verify IP addresses used to electronically sign documents (examples:  DocuSign, DotLoop, or other similar products) and see if the IP address matches the location of the seller
Reporter:Sara Girard
Writer:Melissa Montoya
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