Seller Impersonation Fraud: It is Happening Here!

Real estate transactions have been a prime target of cybercrime over the past decade. There is little sign of this slowing even as the housing market continues to slow. Instead, fraudsters continue to evolve their scam and money laundering tactics to avoid detection.

This latest trend involves vacant lots or unencumbered properties. Fraudsters impersonate property owners to illegally sell commercial or residential property. Sophisticated fraudsters use the real property owner’s Social Security and driver’s license numbers in the transaction, as well as legitimate notary credentials, which may be applied without the notary’s knowledge. ALTA created a handout that highlights red flags and provides precautions to take to help prevent these scams.

Many of you may think this is unlikely to happen in Mississippi … but you would be wrong. Roberta Brink, and her husband, have been the target of such a scam not once, but twice.

On Wednesday evening, July 19, 2023, at approximately 7:30 pm, while walking their dog, Mrs. Brink noticed a “For Sale” sign on their vacant lot located at 1307 Fort Avenue, Oceans Springs, MS 39564. Mrs. Brink approached the next-door neighbor, who happened to be outside at the time, and asked how long the sign had been up. They responded that it had just been put up 45 minutes earlier. The Brinks called the listing agent that evening to inform them that they were the actual owners and that this lot was not for sale. They inquired as to how the property became erroneously listed for sale and were informed that they were contacted by “Robert Little Brink” to sell the property. The Brinks informed the listing agent that this was a scam, and the listing agent removed the “for sale” sign. The property had not yet been listed online.

On Saturday, August 5, 2023, at approximately 11:30 am, the Brink’s received a phone call from one of their neighbors. The neighbor noticed that their vacant lot located at 1307 Fort Avenue was again listed for sale – this time it was listed on the Internet. This time, it was listed for sale as 1311 Fort Avenue, Ocean Springs, MS. Since it had previously been fraudulently listed on July 19, 2023, the neighbor thought that this may be another fraudulent listing. It turns out, he was right. The Brink’s called the unwitting listing agents to inform them that this was a scam. The listing agent informed the Brinks that they had taken the original listing via a phone call from a person purporting to be “Mr. Donald Brink” and had agreed to list the property. The Brink’s reported the fraud/scam to the Ocean Springs Police Department.

The vacant lot was listed on for $200,000, which was less than they had paid for the lot more than three years ago.

Here are some signs you might be getting duped:

  • “Seller” only makes contact via email or text and makes excuses on why they can’t talk on the phone, show up in person or appear virtually.
  • “Seller” demands a quick sale and either insists on a low asking price or is willing to take a lowball offer.
  • “Seller” doesn’t have proper identification.
  • “Seller” tries to use their own notary (the “notary” of course is part of the fraud)
  • “Seller” offers incentives or is willing to cut corners for a quicker closing.

These scams have even caught the eye of the U.S. Secret Service, which issued this joint bulletin with the folks from CertifID.

It’s important to remember things are rarely too good to be true, and it’s always good to have your guard up. When things seem off, they usually are.

Check out this Seller Impersonation Fraud Webinar hosted by the Texas Realtors: