The Big Easy is becoming a big landing spot for fraudsters looking to steal and sell land.
There have been at least seven fraud attempts in New Orleans recently, 4WWL reported. Scammers are taking advantage of digital tools to try and fool parties of a real estate transaction into paying for land the scammers do not own.
Here’s the scam: thieves impersonate sellers and steal their identities, then forge documents to sell the vacant land owned by these so-called sellers. The scheme has proliferated due to the rise of online real estate transactions, which lessens the need for in-person interactions, and therefore, validation of a person’s identity.
In the Riverbend neighborhood, a neighbor alerted Daniel Tan that another neighbor wanted to make an offer on Tan’s land above the $140,000 listing price. Tan was confused and for good reason: He never listed the lot.
He got in contact with the Realtor marketing the property, who told him it was under contract. Tan said that it shouldn’t have been, considering he was the owner. Among the fake documents presented in the case were wiring instructions to a bank, notarized sale documents and a driver’s license with the correct number and address, but wrong picture of Tan’s face.
The title company recognized the fraud and confirmed with Tan that the lot was not for sale before any money changed hands.
Title companies are combating the growing scam by asking for more forms of identification and checking prior sales for matching signatures and photos. They are also encouraging buyers to get title insurance and for real estate agents to visually see the people that are supposedly selling their lots.
The New Orleans Metropolitan Association of Realtors has put an alert about the scam on its website.
Tan is also looking to find legal actions to go after the scammers; he’s an attorney by trade.
“If I don’t know the locks on my front door don’t work when I go to bed, I don’t know that I need to take some extra precautions or even fix that front door,” Tan told the publication. “And right now, we don’t have anything to notify us that our front door is broken.”
— Holden Walter-Warner