At least $9 million worth of real estate was up for sale at some point this year in San Luis Obispo County, but not by the rightful owners.
The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office says scammers have tried to sell about three dozen undeveloped properties in the county to real estate agents in a quick and easy scheme. The target property is one without a mortgage, lien, or any encumbrances against it. The whole scheme will look and feel real.
Here’s how it works: A scammer will list a property owned by someone else and tell the real estate agent it needs to be listed for a quick, and likely, cash sale. The escrow documents will be notarized with counterfeit notary stamps, and all communication with the agents will be on the phone or through email. They will not meet for in-person signings. Compromised bank accounts are then used to get the proceeds from the sale.
“Typically, what we’re seeing is vacant, undeveloped land. That’s a key component because you don’t have a tenant who would be concerned with this,” said Eric Dobroth, San Luis Obispo County Assistant District Attorney.
Since learning about the scam earlier this year, the SLO County District Attorney’s Office says that by working with real estate agents in the area, they have successfully thwarted about $9 million in fraudulent attempts to sell property within SLO County. Since there are roughly 3,000 properties of this variety in the county, this particular scam is unlikely to end anytime soon.
“At this point, we’re unaware of any actual losses. It’s a better scenario to avoid the losses in the first place and be proactive about it than playing catch up at the end,” Dobroth said. “This is a statewide issue and a national issue. Unfortunately, in other jurisdictions, this scam is working quite well.”
If you own an unencumbered and vacant property, there are a few things you can do to check and see if your land is up for sale fraudulently. You can conduct a quick internet search of your property’s address to see if it’s listed without your knowledge on reputable sites like Zillow, Redfin, or MLS.com. Reach out to the SLO County Assessor’s Office online or call them at (805) 781-5643 to ensure your mailing address is correct for all properties you own. You can also contact SLO County District Attorney Investigator Eric Vitale at (805) 781-5868.
As of now, the DA’s Office could not say if any arrests have been made regarding this scam, but they are sending a letter to owners of the properties that could be targeted with information on what to do if they’re worried.