SC Real Estate Commission warns of vacant lot sale scams

The SC Real Estate Commission is warning consumers about a rise in fraudulent sales and mortgages for vacant lots.
Published: Jan. 16, 2023 at 3:00 PM EST|Updated: Jan. 17, 2023 at 9:10 PM EST
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - The South Carolina Real Estate Commission is warning consumers about a rise in fraudulent sales and mortgages for vacant lots.

The scam targets unencumbered, vacant lots owned by persons out of state, the commission’s director, Emily Farr, said.

With this scam, South Carolina real estate licensees may be contacted by a person acting as the seller seeking to have a vacant lot promptly sold for below market value.

Century 21 First Choice Vice President of Business Development Alex Dewey IV says he has been aware of these sorts of scams but has not had to deal with them directly. However, he says it is important that both a buyer and agent need to pay close attention.

He says essentially what is happening is that someone who most likely lives out-of-state owns a piece of property that they do not often check up on. Another individual that also might live out of state is claiming that the property is theirs and then tries to sell it. Because the actual owner is not paying active attention to their land, fake sellers are getting away with it.

“Not being attorneys, we certainly cannot practice law,” Dewey said. “However, we can go to public records and things of that nature and do our best to make sure that whatever our client is trying to secure is indeed not a fraudulent situation.”

Before making a purchase, anyone approached with requests should verify that the seller matches the person on the land deed so as to be in compliance with state law, which requires a written listing agreement signed by the property owner.

A release from the commission also included these “red flags” to watch for published by the North Carolina Real Estate Commission:

  • The buyer/seller is traveling on vacation (sometimes abroad), claims they cannot meet in person and has to do everything by email.
  • The seller has a family emergency, needs a quick cash sale, and will accept substantially less than full price if they can close in a very short time.
  • The email address or phone numbers are from another country. Of course, there are legitimate buyers and sellers who live overseas, but this does raise a flag that should be checked.
  • Photo IDs, such as drivers’ licenses or passports, are barely legible.
  • The Seller does not require a Due Diligence fee and/or low or no Earnest Money combined with a quick closing (in order to obtain quick proceeds before a scam is discovered).
  • The buyer/seller makes constant excuses, is not able to perform the terms of the contract, or is not returning paperwork.
  • The buyer/seller gets very angry at the licensee as the transaction gets closer to closing and applies pressure on the licensee to make sure the deal goes through. Sometimes they offer an incentive such as commission bonuses or promise other opportunities to buy or sell.

If you encounter a property owner that has been a victim of an attempt to sell their property without their consent, encourage them to contact the FBI to report the fraudulent activities and get assistance in stopping the perpetrator.

Click here for more information from the FBI.