Phony Real Estate Agents Steal Buyers’ Cash

Recently my office has sued one company and learned of others placing bogus for-sale signs in front of vacant homes in an effort to swindle prospective buyers, many of whom are non-English speakers. The scam works by consumers contacting the phone number on the sign and then meeting with the scammer who often poses as a real estate agent. The scammer then tries to convince the consumer to write a check for a deposit on the home which will supposedly be applied to the price of the sale at closing. Please be careful.

In reality you would simply be handing over money to a scammer for a home that is not actually for sale. Sometimes the scammer may even go as far as to ask you to provide your banking information as well as copies of your tax statements. This could cause you the double problem of losing your money and having your identity stolen.

Our office suggests you take several steps to avoid this scam:

  • When working with a person who claims to be a real estate agent, make sure that he or she is licensed by the Texas Real Estate Commission (TREC). Call TREC at (800) 250-8732 or (512) 459-6544 locally to confirm that the agent is licensed, even if you see a business card.
  • Before paying anything to purchase property, check with the county appraisal district to see who really owns the property.
  • Always have a title search performed before signing closing documents.
  • Don’t do deals on a handshake. In the past scammers have swindled consumers out of tens of thousands of dollars by presenting them with handwritten contracts for homes to which they did not hold title.
  • Be very wary of sales offering very low down payments, especially if the property is vacant.

Click here to read more about other housing scams that my office has taken action to stop.

General Abbott's signature
Greg Abbott
Attorney General of Texas

Back

ABOUT CONSUMER ALERTS - The Office of the Attorney General accepts consumer complaints about businesses. When a pattern of complaints warrants intervention, the Attorney General can file a civil lawsuit under consumer protection statutes, sometimes with the result that a company is required to pay restitution to consumers -- see our Major Lawsuits page. However, when a consumer is swindled by a con artist, filing a complaint cannot help. Civil litigation can sometimes put a very unscrupulous business out of action, but often cannot produce restitution.

Individual con artists generally fall under the jurisdiction of a criminal prosecutor -- in Texas, this is the district or county attorney. But even when they are charged and convicted, these individuals usually have spent the money as fast as they have stolen it. A person who is the victim of fraud should report the incident to the police or sheriff. But by far the best thing is for consumers to be aware of fraud, so they are not swindled in the first place. For this reason, the Office of the Attorney General posts these Consumer Alerts about possible scams and schemes that come to our attention through citizen contacts to our office or other sources.

Revised: