Real estate scam rattling East End

Fraudsters impersonate landowners to sell vacant plots

(Getty)
(Getty)

Listings for open land are few and far between on the North Fork and Shelter Island, so when a bunch popped up with low prices, it seemed too good to be true.

Turns out, it was.

Fraudsters have been working the East End real estate market in recent weeks, the Suffolk Times reported. Police have documented nearly a dozen instances of the scam, which may be targeting brokers in weekend-home communities so it doesn’t seem suspicious that the “seller” won’t meet in person.

All of the cases — which remain unsolved — are similar. A person contacts a real estate agent to list a vacant parcel at below-market value, validates his identity with a realistic looking driver’s license, expresses a desire to close quickly, communicates only by text or email and uses DocuSign.

Nobody appears to have lost money yet, but in a few instances scammers were dangerously close to getting paid.

The con artists send emails in the name of the real owners and offer vacant land because it does not require a house tour or exchange of keys.

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Penelope Moore (penelopemoorerealestate.com)
Penelope Moore (penelopemoorerealestate.com)

The Shelter Island police officer leading the investigation told the Suffolk Times that the perpetrators may not be in New York or even in the U.S. Two who got on the phone with brokers had foreign accents.

One broker on Shelter Island started working on a listing for a couple she knew, but recognized several red flags, such as when the “seller” claimed not to have a survey of the property. That seemed unlike the couple, whom she knew to be meticulous.

“I figured it was illegal at this point,” Penelope Moore said after a bizarre interaction with the con artist. She was able to reach the homeowners by phone and found them shocked that someone was trying to sell their land.

The increased use of online tools to conduct transactions — as well as the competitiveness of the East End housing market — has made it easier for this kind of scheme to unfold. It’s also popping up in similar ways around the country, such as in New Orleans.

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