Real estate scams and scallywags

By Elizabeth Erickson | Nov 14, 2012

I’ve been “working” with an “all-cash,” “foreign buyer” who plans to buy a home sight-unseen and close in a month. He’s provided a Bank of China statement in “U.S. dollars” showing a balance of $1,154,051.

By coincidence, a month prior I’d closed a home for an “all-cash,” “Chinese buyer.” They were totally unconnected – but with small excuse, I was ripe to buy into this email for a few days.

After a few exchanges, instinct said something’s amiss, but I had no idea. Then I simply typed into the Google search line: “Han Hung Beijing China.” *

The first –very first – result at the top of the Google page? “Real Estate Scam Warning,” a blog on Homestead Title Company’s website out of Madison, Wis.

As I read through many stories from contributors across the country, several quoted the exact words of “Mr. H’s” email to me.

But the most poignant stories were homeowners’ heartbreaking stories of packing up and waiting to move. “It took a great deal of joy from our lives,” wrote one.

And I had just sent off an “Offer to Purchase” for Mr. H. to sign! Fortunately, I’d not made any contact with the listing broker.

(It’s barely OK to embarrass oneself to Beacon readers for the sake of educating, but had I encouraged sellers that they might after two years be getting an offer? – that would have been an unforgivable judgment lapse.)

Here’s how this scam potentially works, but it’s so dumb that the number of successful rip-offs must be few, but lucrative:

A crime partner in the United States sends a cashiers check to “an attorney you set up for escrow.” (Bogus, but apparently an excellent forgery.) Then, “Oops! Sent too much. Please wire $10,000 back to foreign account.”

(This is not the quality of attorney I employ, so the financial part of the rip-off is loss from an attorney, not the homeowner.)

I had already told Mr. H that if we got to mutual agreement, then he’d need to wire his Earnest Money to escrow – standard procedure.

Now I was sure I wouldn’t hear from him again for I was clearly no idiot; certainly he’d recognize that.

Undaunted, Mr. H sent back the signed offer. “Please retain a lawyer for me so that my stock broker can send the funds directly to him to keep in a trust account until I arrive in USA with my wife.

“Kindly get back to me with a candid response, as I plan to be in USA soon.” This is the stage I’m at, ball in my court. I want to play along. I want to get his phony check. I want to report him to the FBI., FTC, and the JERK commission.

But this is an untraceable crime/hook. Other than to alert readers here, any action would be ineffective. The biggest lesson to underscore here:

This age of Endlessly Creative Internet Scams is only mirrored by Endlessly Instant Internet Answers! Webster’s online dictionary defines this generation’s newly coined word, “google” – as a verb.

So google it!

*The criminals initiating these emails could well be “Schmedley Jones” of Scranton, Penn. In this ongoing scam (since 2010) the authors purport to be Canadian, Japanese – any foreigner. “Mr. Hung” was the name used by this scammer; the Chinese are probably getting scammed by the American guy, Schmedley.

Note: Part 2 on HOAs will be in December’s Beacon.

Elizabeth Erickson is owner and designated broker of Gallery Homes Real Estate. Contact her at erickson@galleryhomesre.com or at the office: 425-212-4300 or direct: 425-508-1405, or go to www.galleryhomesre.com.

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