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Brad comments today on the newest scam: fraudulent leads.

The lead came in from one of the big real estate consumer web sites:

“I need a 4/6 bedroom home, garage, and pool or without pool, close to school area because I have 2 kids age 5 and 7, 1 or 2 story home, I am moving down in 4 months time, please forward me some property photos or listings in your area of greatest expertise, price range $250,000 to $500,000, I will be in your location in 6 weeks time from now The home will be a cash buy. Email is better than telephone due to my accent and english. The home will be my retiring home, I am a Canadian Japanese Regards Ooie Tasuro ooietasuro@japan.com You can reach me at (802) XXX-3078.”

At first glance, it seems to be a good one. But most scams prey upon our greed, right? But take a more careful look.

Allowing us to choose the area? A huge price range? All cash? He writes well, but discourages phone calls due to his lack of English?

Nonetheless, we contacted this individual. And here was his response:

“I will like to offer $440,000 MLS#: 1099XXX because I love the curb appeal of this property, please send me the contract for me to sign and return immediately this will be my retirement home and it will be a cash buy, and the balance will be completed cash at closing

1. I will want to close on 28th Febuary, 2011

2. I want to put down $5,000.00 Earnest money and $30,000.00 down payment, the balance will be completed at closing.

3. additional $120,000.00 extra will be used to buy furnitures in this property because I want my home to look like Japanese mansion, this payment is not included in the purchase price.

4. I want to put contingency on inspection on the contract.
Please note all 4 listed above shall be on the contract

My legal name is Ooie Tasuro of 2000 Shappard Avenue, Toronto Ontario Canada M3N 2J1 I will not be in Canada before the closing date to wire the funds to the attorney so I will advice you to send me an attorney information for a check to be drawn to give enough time for check clearance since I wont be in Canada to wire funds for closing.

Please forward me a purchase contract agreement in docusign format, DocuSign format is an electronic way of signing document , forward it to me via docusign format, their website is http://www.docusign.com/

My account manager will Issue payment in US Funds $155,000.00USD for 5,000.00, the will be for earnest money, second deposit of $30,000.00 and $120,000.00 to be applied to buy furnitures in Japan these shall be send to your attorney.

I strongly advice that I need an attorney to represent my interest in this transaction, my lawyer can pay to seller or title company so therefore I would like to deposit all payment with the lawyer.

Please I need the following information for your attorney immediately for payment

Law Firm Name……………………………………………
Law Firm Address……………………………………………….
Law Firm Telephone………………………………………………
Lawyer’s Name…………………………………………………..

Regards
Ooie Tasuro”

Now, it got even stinkier. $120,000 for furniture? To be paid in advance? All this cash without even seeing the house? Electronic signatures planned at this early stage? Something was starting to become suspicious. But, we responded yet again, and this is how he replied:

“See attachment of my bank statement, I would like a your lawyer to represent in all transaction and disburse fund accordingly, we have lots of mix up with tittle company in the past, we dont work with title company, please forward me your lawyer information below to enambe my attorney forward your attorney a earnest money and a down payment.

Please I need the following information for your attorney immediately at my own expense´

Law Firm Name……………………………………………
Law Firm Address……………………………………………….
Law Firm Telephone………………………………………………
Check Payable to…………………………………………………..

Once again thank you for your endeavour towards my purchase I really appreciate. I await your attorney info and the purchase agreement

Best Regard

Ooie Tasuro”

And he did attach a bank statement! From a real bank branch located in Canada. But the format of the statement was odd. Almost no transactions, virtually blank.

I suggested that we conduct an internet search on the name, email address, street address and phone number. And guess what we found? COUNTLESS real estate professionals, nationwide, who had received virtually the same email and the same bank statement (posted online), but with different names on some of them. (Note: this has nothing to do with the fact the names this scamster chose were of Japanese origin. He could have chosen names from any country on earth, and this should have no reflection on Japanese buyers in any way).

We also found numerous warnings from agents who had pursued this hoax further, and discovered deeper into the scam than we did that something was amiss.

We even called the bank in Canada to gain some insight into the situation, and to confirm what we already knew. When we provided the bank with information from the bank statement, their advice to us was to contact our local police department without delay. I suspect that our call was not the first they had received.

So what’s the point? What does this person want?

The best we can tell is one of three scenarios: he will send money to someone’s trust or escrow account, subsequently cancel the transaction, request his money to be returned, thereby laundering it; or, he will send a fraudulent bank instrument, international, no doubt, then cancel the transaction, and request his funds to be returned. A wire would be sent to him, only for us to find out later that his original instrument was a fake (yes, there are fake banks checks everywhere); or, possibly, he is attempting to empty the bank account when we provide information to him about where to send his deposit.

Real estate agents are not alone in wanting new customers for their business, of course, and consequently, they are often willing to bend the rules in order to obtain and satisfy new customers. But I believe that the old adage applies here: if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

There are myriad reasons why TRR has never had escrow accounts. If we did, and allowed our associates to give out account information to strangers in order to conduct their real estate transactions, we could have found ourselves to be victims in this fraud.

I urge all real estate professionals who are reading this blog to be ultra-cautious when dealing with customers, especially those who come to us under the cloak of anonymity from the internet. Undoubtedly, these scams will grow increasingly sophisticated in the future. It is more important than ever before to KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER! Ask questions! Investigate! Use your judgment and trust your instinct, and NEVER, EVER let your desperation or hunger to do a deal supersede your good judgment. Follow proper protocol in all cases, no matter how great the temptation to break rules “just this once”. Your future, your finances, your safety, your license all may depend on it.

Date posted: February 6, 2011