BOCA RATON, Fla. — A Boca Raton real estate broker nearly lost $200,000 in a fake deed scam involving vacant land in Deerfield Beach.
It happened on September 10. That’s when Marshall Sklar, a real estate broker in Boca Raton, realized something had gone horribly wrong with a sale he made earlier that week for a vacant property in Deerfield Beach. .
“We received a message from a woman claiming my property was stolen,” Sklar said. “Right away we looked at our file and noticed that the contact details, wiring information and the real recipient of the transfer was not the name of the seller of the property.”
Luckily, the real owner of the property signed up for real estate fraud alerts using the Palm Beach County Clerk’s website. This will alert land and property owners if someone tries to use their identity to sell their property.
“She was telling us this whole story about how she was alerted that her property had been transferred without her knowledge,” Sklar said.
It turns out the culprit had created a fake ID card using his information.
“In addition to the fake ID, they signed a listing agreement with a real estate agent,” Sklar said. “It was a real listing deal for land they didn’t own.”
Then, Sklar said, a false deed was filed. Deeds are used to transfer title or ownership of a property.
It’s something Greg Gefen, with Signature Title Group in Boca Raton, knows well.
“Florida has a very vibrant and robust real estate market,” Gefen said. “But scammers know it’s very disjointed and spread across a large number of small and medium-sized title companies and real estate agencies.”
Gefen believes this is why this type of scam is on the rise.
He saw Sklar’s post about what happened on Facebook and sent him a contact for the Secret Service, who were able to stop the wire transfer in its tracks, according to Sklar and Gefen.
“There needs to be some sort of coordinated response between industry and law enforcement, whether it’s the Secret Service, the banks, the FBI, because this has gone on for too long,” Gefen said.
The same type of trick is also used to trick renters into falling in love with a too-good-to-be-true offer online, when the property isn’t actually available to rent.
It happened to Joseph Veres, who spoke to WPTV in June.
“It just seemed like everyone was legit and I didn’t know he was a scammer,” Veres said.
The best way for a landlord to seek redress is through the online real estate fraud alert service through MyPalmBeachClerk.com.
Sklar told WPTV that real estate agents should also keep an eye out for red flags. Among them, if the alleged seller contacts a potential buyer about a sale by e-mail, if he asks the buyer to transfer funds internationally, if the seller does not want to close in person or if the seller usually claims that he or she is too busy traveling to sign documents in person.
“It was the craziest situation in 23 years of business that I have ever experienced,” Sklar said.