Brokers struggle to distinguish billionaires from scammers

With an increasingly diverse pool of buyers, it can be hard to tell who can really afford to play ball

Brandon Trenthem of Town Residential and Jason Haber of Warburg
Brandon Trenthem of Town Residential and Jason Haber of Warburg

New York City brokers can’t afford to judge a book by its cover. But with buyers coming in from all parts of world, brokers are struggling to distinguish billionaire tech moguls from average Joes.

“These days, if it seems too good to be true, usually it is,” Jason Haber of Warburg Realty told the New York Daily News. “You’re not John Spano [the con man who closed a deal to purchase the New York Islanders in the 1990s]. You can’t buy something if you have no money.”

Haber was recently scammed by a man who he said wanted to buy a $10 million Manhattan townhouse. The man said that he planned to pay with money he inherited from his late father and he seemed to check out: he was in his late 40s, was knowledgeable about fine art, spoke three languages and wove an elaborate tale about a bad childhood, according to the Daily News.

In reality the man was penniless, and just wanted photos of himself in fancy apartments to put on his Facebook page.

However, Brandon Trenthem of Town Residential nearly lost a legitimately wealthy buyer that seemed too good to be true.

Recently, a 21-year-old Asian student from London contacted him by email, hoping to find a multi-million dollar apartment for the upcoming fall semester. Skeptical, Trenthem asked for proof of funds and the student sent back a bank statement showing a balance of $400 million.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Trenthem said. “It actually made me even more wary, but I figured why not try? I’ve seen crazy things happen in this business.” [NYDN] Christopher Cameron