ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — A rural piece of property along Haas Road in Apopka was recently listed for sale by four different real estate agents, while the actual owners had no idea.
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The person claiming to own the property used fraudulent identification with the real owner’s information on it.
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It’s an increasingly more common scheme that could end up costing the potential buyer thousands.
The property on Haas Rd. made up the retirement plan for Betsy Berkland and her husband.
“It’s going to be our forever home,” Berkland said.
So when pictures popped up showing the property for sale online, Betsy says her phone started ringing off the hook with people asking if she had listed her house.
“And I said nope, our plan is the same,” Berkland said. “But I did go on Zillow, and there it was.”
It was posted by Real Estate Agent George Crawford after a scammer who created fake driver’s licenses with the Berlands’ real information on them sent over scans of those IDs with all the signed documentation required to list.
Spear-phishing attacks are individualized and more specific than the common scam messages we see—and that is what makes them more dangerous.
View my latest Consumer Alert for more information⬇️https://t.co/BstF8Cq0LS pic.twitter.com/VVmvppB1gz
— AG Ashley Moody (@AGAshleyMoody) August 16, 2022
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“We’re at a whole new level,” Crawford said. “I’ve never seen this before. At its core, it’s identity theft. They’re using the real estate for the vehicle.”
It’s a new twist on a scam state agents have been tracking for months.
In this case, the scammer was able to trick four different real estate agents over the course of a week, including Tanya McNeil.
“Unfortunately, it’s what’s happening,” McNeil said. “Even veteran agents and seasoned agents like myself and the previous agent who listed the property…I’m almost 18 years in the business. I have never been scammed, ever.”
The agents provided the phone numbers the scammers used in their documentation, so Channel 9 gave them a call.
The person on the other side of the line initially insisted they were legitimate until they learned the call was part of an investigation and quickly hung up the phone.
Both McNeil and Crawford say if the real owners hadn’t caught on, the property could have made it to a closing with the fake IDs.
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“It’s very frustrating,” Berkland said. “Then the invasion of privacy, and selling the things that we’ve worked hard for…it’s got a lot of different aspects to it.”
The Florida Attorney General has a list of ways consumers can protect their property in an effort to prevent being part of a similar scam. This type of fraud can also be reported directly to their office here.
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