How To Tell If Your Real Estate Agent Is A Fraud

Professional website?�Check.�Realty firm business cards? Check.  Access to the home you are interested in? Check.  Those are typically the signs that you are working with a credible real estate agent, right?  Not necessarily! Unfortunately, this South Carolina story is not the first incident of someone falsely posing as a lawful real estate agent, but hopefully, with the help of this article, it will be the last. Take this one-question quiz to see how savvy you are in your home search. If you are looking for a new space to call home and see an advertisement for a great home, do you:

1. Call the number on the ad and arrange to meet the person as soon as your schedule permits

2. Call the number on the ad and offer to send a deposit to reserve the home sight-unseen

3. Call the number on the ad and verify that person is a legal owner or representative of the home

4. I would like to start doing 3 but I typically do 1 or 2

What did you select?  Since you do not have to turn in your answers, be honest with yourself because being self-aware just may save you from a precarious, unwanted situation the next time you are looking to move. The correct answer is 3.  I am sure this answer seems obvious in the line-up given, but realistically, how do you make sure the housing advertisement you are seeing is not a scam?  Well, here are two easy steps.

Google the “Agent”

First, do an internet search of the person that says he can show you the home.  If the person professes to be a real estate “agent”, he MUST have a current license (with a license number) that is affiliated with a bona fide real estate firm. In Georgia, for example, this means that if you do an internet search for “find a real estate agent in ga” or “Georgia real estate agent search” the top results will include a link to the Real Estate Commission in Georgia.  If you click that link, you can easily search for real estate agents by their first name, last name or even their license number. If you are unable to retrieve any information, or the person is noted to be inactive, suspended or some other derogatory term, do not “pass go and do not collect $200” (since many of us began our love affair with real estate from the Monopoly game).  In other words, do not plan to meet this person, and you may even want to report the advertisement to whatever marketing platform you found it on (i.e. Craigslist, Zillow, local newspaper, etc.), so that it can be removed to prevent others from getting caught in a potential scam. You may not be in Georgia but you can do a similar search, just swap out Georgia with the name of your state and look for the state-affiliated real estate commission in the locale of the “agent”. If the person showing the home does not profess to be some sort of a sales “agent” but rather the owner, then do an internet search of the public records for the home to verify who the current owner is.  Nowadays, most housing public records are available online - most but not all so if you are looking in an area that does not have an archive of its records online, let your “fingers do the walking” and call or visit the local government offices to find out who the homeowner is.  This information is open to the public and is, therefore, attainable with a little work.  If you feel like this may be too involved for you, especially with your busy schedule and the number of homes you have an interest in, keep reading.

Get Your Own Trusted Representative

As much as we may thrive on being “do-it-yourselfers,” we sometimes can use and profoundly benefit from the assistance of a professional.  Your home search is one of those times because a professional REALTOR®, whom you have personally vetted, can easily verify the legitimacy of a listing due to our extensive resources with title companies, real estate attorneys and our software systems that retrieve public record data automatically. Sure, in today’s technological age, a five year old on an iPad can find what homes are for sale in any given neighborhood in a matter of seconds.  Thus, the value of REALTORS® today is not in simply finding a home but helping buyers understand the dynamics and caveats associated with investing in a particular home and then negotiating like a ninja on behalf of that buyer. As a real estate broker, I have seen REALTORS® help would-be buyers of a particular home to understand the ramifications of the home being in a lengthy estate battle that the heirs of the home had not candidly disclosed in their advertisement.  I have seen REALTORS® help their rental clients not tie up their funds in a home that was getting ready to be foreclosed upon by a landlord that hid his true financial status but then help those same clients buy a foreclosured home for less than the rental would have cost each month.  I have seen REALTORS® protect the unsuspecting public from various advertisement scams, so I encourage you to find a trusted, legitimate, real estate professional to help you navigate an industry that is increasingly targeted by frauds who may want to dupe you out of your hard-earned money or even harm you.
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