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Nigerian Scammers Are Everywhere!

By Attorney Daniel Hamad

As people – including attorneys and real estate agents – look for any deals to be found in this dismal market, scams have become more and more prevalent, and the scammers have become more sophisticated.  Sophisticated enough that you can find even attorneys taken in by them.

We typically call them Nigerian scams, but realistically they rarely come out of Nigeria any longer.  In fact, the United Kingdom (England) seems to be the most common nation for scams.  The scammers usually are not actually citizens of the U.K., and perhaps are not even located there, but they’ll have an English name and all the documents you could want (including a passport scan) to “prove” that they are who they say they are.  A word to the wise: if somebody contacts you from outside of the United States, don’t trust them, even if it’s from a supposedly reputable and first world country.

Let’s review how one of the common scams goes.  First, a purchaser contacts an attorney (usually by e-mail) and says that they would like to purchase a property in that attorney’s area.  They will name the property and it will be a property currently for sale.  A sophisticated scammer will sign an attorney engagement agreement when asked, and provide a scan of their supposed passport or other identifying documents.  They will want the attorney to handle all the negotiation for them, or to hire a realtor that they know.  They will want no direct contact with the seller.

Things to look for: 1) overly formal language even after several e-mails; 2) An all cash deal, sometimes with supposed bankers in the US but where no bank is identified; 3) A quick closing requested (usually only a few weeks); an immediate offer to transfer (some/all) funds; 4) grammar that may not be poor, but has verb tense / grammar mistakes in areas where English speakers usually do not err; 5) they do not want to personally inspect the property prior to closing, asking you to do it or hire someone to do it.

Some scammers have gotten sophisticated enough that they will even agree to provide certified funds, rather than wiring funds to an attorneys IOLTA/trust account.  To be clear: never, ever provide wire information to somebody you haven’t met and cannot verify.  You will get this same advice for every bank, realtor, and attorney out there.

These scammers basically rely on everybody’s (attorneys, sellers, realtors) desire to get properties sold.  It seems like easy money – a quick cash deal paying at or near asking price.  Perfect for everyone.  But the purchaser will start to make “mistakes” as time moves along.  They will deposit or provide incorrect amounts of money for the purchase.  They will not provide certified funds when they previously had said they would.  Their bankers won’t be able to prove whom they work for.  The purchaser won’t show up when he should.  The “mistakes” will all be related to timing and to funding, putting everyone in a bind as time winds down.  They will then push for the closing to happen anyway, with everyone invested in it happening, and that is when they’ll have you.

If you are contacted by somebody like this, let your instincts take over.  If something does not seem right about them, don’t do the deal.  You might lose out on a closing – but you avoid the risk of losing a lot more than that.  Talk to the person on the phone, at the least.  Do not simply rely on e-mail.  Request several forms of ID.   Check their grammar… and under no circumstance provide your bank account information.

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