Real Estate Scam Offers Sky-High Property Deal — For a Fee

Real estate scam, bogus iTunes emails and directories — all dressed up to look like the real thing: Internet Scambusters #413

A real estate scam that hinges on the infamous advance payment trick aims to convince property sellers they have a guaranteed buyer prepared to pay over the fair market value of the property.

Details of this trick heads up this week’s Snippets issue in which we also have info on a bogus iTunes email receipt that attempts to get you to download an information-stealing virus.

And we have a warning on how scammers prey on people’s vanity to lure them into paying for a listing in a supposed “Who’s Who” directory.

Real Estate Scam Offers Sky-High Property Deal — For a Fee

A real estate scam that surfaced recently in Arkansas serves as timely warning to all property owners about a new variation of the notorious advance fee fraud.

Advance fee scams, as regular readers know from earlier issues, come in two main varieties.

One involves the victim receiving a bogus check as a supposed upfront payment, a portion of which they then have to wire as untraceable “electronic cash” to a third party.

How to Spot Bogus Documents and Fake Check Scams

The other advance fee scam is the familiar email that invites you in on a share of a big stash of cash, provided you pay some fees to get your hands on the money (which of course never materializes).

SCAM: The Nigerian Advance Fee Scheme

This new real estate scam provides yet another variation.

This time, a property owner gets an out-of-state call for vacant lots or homes he or she is selling.

The caller claims to have a fully committed purchaser lined up, and promises to handle all the closing legalities.

Not only that, says the caller, but this supposed purchaser will pay way above the asking price (in one case, three times the price).

All you need do is send a non-refundable check to cover the closing costs.

Oh, and by the way, the whole business will be dealt with by email, without you ever needing to meet the agent or the buyer.

Uh-oh. Too many warning signs here: an unrealistic bid price, upfront fees and the whole thing apparently handled anonymously and at a distance.

Still, that doesn’t stop the scammers from giving it a try.

And why not? With many people facing foreclosure and desperate to sell their homes, the prospect of getting a high price, thereby solving all their financial problems, could be just enough to cloud their judgment.

If you’re selling property and this happens to you, just heed those warning signals. Very few people buy sight-unseen. No serious purchaser would deal purely by email. And, in the current real estate market, nobody offers crazy-high prices.

Either use a bona fide realtor to protect your interests or make sure you know exactly who you’re dealing with.

Footnote: On the subject of advance fees, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a consumer watchdog, has ruled that, from October 27, companies that sell debt relief services over the phone cannot charge for their services until they’ve done what they said they’d do.

Be sure to read their announcement: FTC Issues Final Rule to Protect Consumers in Credit Card Debt.

Bogus iTunes Receipt

A few weeks back we wrote about a series of phishing emails seeming to come from online retailer Amazon: Your Personal Information: Back in the USSR With This Amazon Scam. Their real aim was to draw victims to a bogus Amazon page to capture sign-on and password details.

Now, a similar trick uses Apple’s popular music and applications download service, iTunes.

Like the Amazon scam, this con trick originates in Russia. But this time the crooks want you to download malware (the Zeus Trojan virus), which steals confidential information off your PC.

Victims receive what appears to be a receipt for payment for downloads. Often the bill is for a fairly outrageous sum — several hundred dollars.

The scammers hope this will prompt victims to click one of several links, especially one titled: Report a Problem.

This, and every other link in the message, issues a request to download a supposed pdf reader, in reality the Zeus virus.

If this happens to you, there are a couple of obvious scam giveaway signs.

First, the math in the receipt doesn’t add up — numbers seem to be random.

Second, clicking the link will take you to a page whose domain name ends in “.info” rather than “.com”.

Regardless of this, of course, you should never click on a link like this inside an email. Instead, open your Internet browser and key in the correct website address there.

Who’s not who?

Our final warning this week focuses on bogus Who’s Who directory listings.

A number of genuine biographical directories use “Who’s Who” in their publication titles.

It’s obviously flattering to have your name in one of these, so it’s hardly surprising scammers have spotted the opportunity to invent similar directories, exploiting personal vanity by offering entries in their directories — for a fee.

These offers may come by mail or email, or you may even see them promoted on social media networks or in chat rooms with scammers posing as “listees” and raving about the publication.

Now, obviously, some legitimate trade and academic directories — lists of freelancers, for example — do charge for entries.

Happily for the scammers, this blurs the distinction between a genuine and useful Who’s Who type of publication and a bogus one.

In fact, scammers may not even break the law provided they do actually print a directory, even though it may have a limited or even non-existent distribution.

Sometimes, they merely publish their listings online. Then, it’s anyone’s guess how many people will see it.

If you’re approached or thinking about a Who’s Who type of listing, here are some key things to know or do:

  • Biographies that list, for want of a better phrase, “the great and the good,” don’t charge for entries, which, in any case, are by invitation only.
  • If you’re offered a paid-for listing in anything other than a directory linked to your category of business or profession, beware!
  • If you’re considering paying for a listing, check out the publication. Ask about previous editions and planned distribution of the new one.
  • Realize the bottom line is that, unless you’re going to get business or valuable contacts from a listing, it’s probably not worth paying — unless your ego demands it!

That’s a wrap for this week’s Snippets issue. We hope the real estate scam and those other con tricks don’t come your way, but at least you’ll be prepared if they do.