I received this email alert today from a law firm in Florida:
Fraud Alert: Foreign Cash Buyer
Fraudulent “buyers” are out there, wasting the time of real estate agents and sellers, fishing for the opportunity to rip-off the real estate agent or title company escrow account. We just witnessed one of our colleagues nearly have his trust account fraudulently emptied by a “cash buyer.”
The “buyer” contacted a local real estate agent by E-mail indicating that he was a Chinese businessman and wanted to buy a Florida vacation home. He said he saw the listing of a particular property on the Internet, that he liked what he saw and wanted to make a cash offer.
After several E-mails back and forth, a contract was executed to purchase the property, sight unseen for $380,000.00. The contract provided for a $15,000.00 initial deposit and an additional $23,000.00 deposit to be made within 15 days of the Effective Date. As proof of funds to effect the transaction, the executed contract was accompanied by the “buyer’s” December bank statement from the Bank of China showing an opening balance of $2,500,000.50, an ending balance of $1,057,654.63, and an E-mail that read as follows:
“Attached are scanned copies of the acknowledged document. As I have said before, the home will be a cash buy and I and my wife will fly to USA for viewing the property but before that I would like my stock broker in America to send the money to your firm via a lawyer/solicitor. I want to make the funds available in USA before coming to view the property, please I would want you to 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. Please let me know the lawyer retaining fees and charges so that my stock broker can include all in the payment he would be sending to the lawyer. Kindly get back to me with a candid response as I plan to be in USA soon.”
Shortly after the lawyer was retained, the lawyer received an official looking check, complete with watermarks on security paper from a Canadian insurance company in the amount of $350,000.00 disbursed on the account of a numbered Canadian company and made payable to the attorney’s trust account. The check was counterfeit. The “buyer” was fake. The whole exercise was a monumental waste of time for the real estate agent and seller. The only good news is, there were enough warning signs that the lawyer refused to disburse on the counterfeit check, and the fraud was averted.”