Strange Things That Have Happened – Part 1 – “The $100,000 Scam”

So I was a little more than skeptical when the email came asking for information on homes in the $800,000 to $1.2 million price range in my market area for a foreign buyer who said he was paying in cash. My first thought is that this is just another version of the “I’m stuck in a jail in Uganda and my accounts are frozen.” Being the eternal optimist, however, I of course fired up the laptop, selected ten properties with good prices, nice virtual tours and great photos and sent them off to this person. I googled his name with the only results being a high end clothing line bearing the same name. I waited and actually forgot about it – so much going on right now in April 2010 with all the tax credit hysteria due to the looming deadline.  In a few days, however, there were additional requests for more information and then a note saying, “I want to buy this property” – giving me one the street addresses I has supplied him with and a multiple listing identification number. About 10 years ago, someone bought a listing I had in a confidential manner due to personal reasons and about 3 years ago, I had a buyer purchase one of my listing based on the stats and virtual tour, as odd as this seemed, there was enough possibility here to continue.  There was a strong earnestness in the email conveying urgency to get a transaction done. I instinctively react to this after so many years of practicing real estate. Its 10:30 at night, I’m spent after a wickedly long day but I drop my CSI and comfort food plans and create a purchase offer with all the disclosures providing directions for where to sign and indicate that I need proof of funds. I shoot these off to the mystery man and for about the third time, I ask who you are, why are you coming here, etc.

For an offer to purchase real estate in the one million dollar range, earnest money of $50,000 would be considered typical. I tell my secretive buyer this is what he needs to come up with. Early the next day, I see an email on my blackberry with a UPS tracking code saying that $150,000 has been delivered somewhere. At this point, I have not received any written contracts back. I panic inside but try to act composed as my real estate team and I are walking to our cars to go get our new group photo taken. They laugh as I try to get into the wrong car because I am confused, concerned and shaking. Where was that money sent? Are they going to try to make me liable for a $150,000 debt? My heart is racing. I call the listing agent while driving to the photographer and she has a car full of shrieking kids and is just not in any frame of mind to have a conversation. When I get back to the office, I check the UPS tracking code online.  It’s a real delivery with a real destination and that someone name Kim received the package. Next thought, call the listing realtor’s office – the person answering says, “Thanks for calling, this is Kim.” So I ask her “Did you receive a check for $150,000? She answered in the affirmative and starts telling me how concerned she was because she had no idea that someone was sending in this kind of money and that she locked it up because her supervising broker was not in town today. I’m thinking, hey this is for real; this guy is buying this place. I do the quick math to see what my pay check would be – can this really be happening – I’m liking this.  I think the prospect of easy money makes people crazy and gullible because I was really feeling that. I recall seeing a Canadian phone number in one of the first emails. I call and a very gruff, foreign voice answers, knows all about me and says, “You will receive the contracts in a few moments.” When I say, who is “so and so”, the response is a very gruff “he is a human being”. This is then followed by an explanation of the buyer’s true intentions: newly retired, businessman, likes the Buffalo area, but wants to still be close to Toronto for international travel and he owns other homes throughout the world.  I’m feeling fat and happy right now – this deal is for real! I call my supervising broker for third time and he says go.  The pages are being sent in individual emails – one at a time; it is excruciating to see the jpeg files floating excruciatingly slow into the INBOX. Hasn’t this guy ever heard of Adobe? Doesn’t he realize that I am going to have to print these out one at a time and then rescan them into another document so I can really send it to someone?  I easily get past this self-pity moment when I think about the pay check.  An important thought crosses my mind, the check they delivered was for $150,000 and the earnest money in the contract says $50,000. We need to fix the contract so it reflects the amount received. I call the gruff voice and after some verbal sparring, he agrees that the contract will be changed to $150,000. I call the listing realtor to let her know that I indeed have a purchase offer for the property in East Amherst listed for approximately $1 million. We are talking a bit more and she gives me the name of the law firm/brokerage in Canada that issued the deposit check. I listen to her talk about the seller and what he is looking for in terms of a closing date and on and on. My need to multitask turns into googling the firm that issued the check, hmmm….nice web site —  looks really official —- let’s count them, about 100 attorneys on staff —-great graphics on this web site —–let’s see where they are located. I click on the Contact US page and in huge letters, it says FRAUD ALERT – and goes on to give this explanation about how someone is perpetrating a scam where they deliver a check that is significantly more than what is required and try to get the listing real estate company to give back the difference to reconcile the contract. The checks they send are made of rubber.  I explain this to the seller’s realtor, we have a laugh and a mutual would be nice kind of conversation. I call the CFO from the law firm that is being misrepresented and leave a voice mail.  She calls back in about 5 minutes with a voice that carries a depth of agony.  I am her 5th caller on Thursday with the same issue. At this point for me, there was such a mixture of relief, disappointment, peace of mind and anger.  She asks us to hold the evidence and if possible, to please return it all to her. It’s the next day and I’m looking at what now feels like a bad dream.

So, other than that, things have been going pretty good.

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