Earlier this year the California Association of REALTORS® reported that a wave of earnest money deposit scams had reappeared and warned brokers and buyers to be vigilant. In June, these same scams are still occurring, and the perpetrators are absconding with even larger deposits.
This type of scam does not involve cybercrime, e-mail phishing or identity theft. It’s an old-fashioned scam that appears to follow the same basic format.
An agent claims to have a listing for a short sale (or probate or other distressed property), but the property cannot be shown. After acceptance of an offer, the buyer makes an initial deposit usually in the $5,000 to $10,000 range, but as high as $40,000, into the listing broker’s non-independent broker escrow.
As with most short sale or probate properties, the process can take several months, and the buyer’s agent is assured that the listing agent is working towards lender approval–it is just taking more time. Then the communication slows down, the agent begins to get concerned and calls the listing broker’s escrow.
There is no answer, no return call, no other number to contact, and the earnest money deposit is gone.
This scam is nearly the same as a series of scams that appeared in the Los Angeles area about two years ago. The Los Angeles County Sheriff eventually arrested the wrongdoers but only after millions of dollars had been lost.