Vacant land in Florida owned by offshore investors is being targeted by international scammers who exploit the real estate market to abscond with hundreds of thousands of dollars, resulting in buyers being left with neither land nor the invested funds.
The con artists impersonate the actual landowners and then contact local real estate brokers masquerading as them in order to sell the vacant parcels expeditiously.
The scheme is built on county records that list undeveloped land possessed by overseas proprietors. The Florida counties of Brevard and Osceola are prime targets for fraudulent sales attempts due to having a higher number of undeveloped lots currently owned by out-of-state proprietors.
The geographical distance provides the perfect cover for the perpetration of the crime. Emails are used for communication, with no face-to-face contact, allowing for anonymity and facilitating a lucrative scam.
Special Agent Brian Crowley of the Orlando Secret Service reported to Orlando News that there was a surge of fraudulent sales attempts in said counties. The cybercriminals alter passports, including attaching photographs of the true landowner and presenting them as proof of identification when asked. “It’s an easy scheme to fall for when all the communication is done by email and not face to face,” Crowley said to Orlando News 6, “We don’t know the actual face of the owner, which is why this is a lucrative scheme.”
One to two requests for quick land sales are made per week, according to Marty Piatkowski, the owner of Twin County Realty in Palm Bay. Piatkowski requests proof of identification and insists on talking with them face-to-face on Facetime or Zoom.
Piatkowski told News 6 Orlando: “They don’t even give a reason why they want to sell it fast, they just want to sell it fast,”
According to Piatkowski, once he requested to verify details of the land deal with them through Facetime or Zoom, they became unresponsive.
“Actually, there’s a real estate friend of mine who lives in my development, she bought a lot for $115,000,” he said, “Luckily, she had title insurance and was able to get the money back.”
Victims of land fraud scams can report their experiences to the local secret service office or provide the information to the Internet Crime Complaint Center. The key to avoiding this scam is to work with reputable real estate brokers, verify the landowner’s identity, and ensure face-to-face contact.
Keep in mind, investors, if a deal sounds too good to be real, usually it is, even in this current crazy market. Do your due diligence on every deal every time!