Land Scams Increase as Criminals Pose as Owners

By Kim Shindle | Sept. 28, 2023 | 3 min. read

Real estate scams have taken on a new twist as criminals look for ways to exploit consumers.

In a recent wave of scams happening in Adams County, people are falsely representing themselves as the owners of vacant land in order to sell the land, which, unfortunately, isn’t theirs to sell.

Shanna Terroso, CEO of the Realtors® Association of York and Adams Counties, said she’s had several members reach out to her about vacant land for sale by someone posing to be the owner. One sale nearly made it to closing.

“The scammers are posing as the owner of record of vacant land and wanting to list the land for sale with the agent,” she explained. “In many cases, these potential scammers are very convincing and have even gone so far as to produce fraudulent documents to pose as the owner of record.”

The person fraudulently claiming to own the property often declines to meet with real estate professionals or potential buyers in person. While many parts of the real estate business can and are being done remotely or via technology, there’s still no way to replace actually meeting and talking with your prospective client. If they refuse to ever meet in person, that could be a red flag.

The PAR Legal Hotline has recently received several calls regarding such scams and vacant property, including one in which someone found a sign on his own land, according to PAR Chief Legal Office Hank Lerner.

“Remember that you’re not obligated to immediately start working with a potential client just because they show up on your doorstep or your inbox,” Lerner said. “If something doesn’t feel right while you’re doing your background research, it may just be best to take a pass. If you discover fraud indicators, you can consider reporting it to local law enforcement, the state police and the FBI Internet Crime division.”

This type of scam is being perpetrated around the country. The Washington Post detailed the tales of a parcel of vacant land in Connecticut that a family had owned for seven decades. Someone impersonating the owner, who lived in another state, sold the land. The owner heard from a friend in the community that he was surprised to see a house being built on the land. The rightful owner went to the land and found a $1.4 million home being built.

RAYAC offered some tips to their members to be vigilant to ensure the person they are dealing with is, in fact, the actual owner of record for the property:

  • Consider using a verification and risk assessment app to review identity verification before meeting with unknown clients.
  • Where available, encourage past and present clients to sign up for the Records Notification Service in their counties. The records notification service can provide security and assurance that no document is recorded on a property without the owner’s knowledge.
  • Research and verify the legitimacy of any potential real estate transaction.

If you have come in contact with someone who is falsely representing themselves as the owner of land or property to sell, you should report this to your local law enforcement, the state police and the FBI crime and fraud division.

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