BOCA RATON, Fla. – A Boca Raton real estate agent lost nearly $200,000 in a forged title deed scam involving vacant land in Deerfield Beach.
It happened on September 10th. That’s when Marshall Sklar, a real estate agent in Boca Raton, realized something had gone horribly wrong with a sale he had completed earlier in the week for a vacant property in Deerfield Beach.
“We received a message from a woman claiming my property was stolen,” Sklar said. “We immediately looked at our file and found that the contact information, the wiring information and the actual recipient of the transfer were not the name of the seller of the property.”
Luckily, the real owner of the property signed up for fraud alerts through the Palm Beach County Clerk’s website. This will alert property and homeowners if someone tries to use their identity to sell their property.
“She told us this whole story about how she was notified that her property had been transferred without her knowledge,” Sklar said.
It turned out that the perpetrator had used her information to create a fake ID.
“In addition to the fake ID, they signed a listing agreement with a real estate agent,” Sklar said. “It was a real listing arrangement for land they didn’t own.”
Then, Sklar said, a forged deed was filed. Deeds are used to transfer title or ownership of a property.
Greg Gefen of Signature Title Group in Boca Raton knows a lot about this.
“Florida has a very vibrant and resilient real estate market,” Gefen said. “But the scammers know it’s very disjointed and that it’s spread across a lot of small and mid-sized title companies and real estate agencies.”
Gefen believes this is why this type of scam is on the rise.
He saw Sklar’s post on Facebook about what was happening and sent him a contact for the Secret Service, which Sklar and Gefen said was able to stop the transfer immediately.
“There needs to be some kind of coordinated response between industry and law enforcement, whether it’s the Secret Service, the banks, the FBI, because it’s been going on for far too long,” Gefen said.
The same type of trick is also used to trick renters into falling for a too good offer online when the property is not actually available for rent.
It happened to Joseph Veres speaking to WPTV in June.
“It just seemed like everyone was legit and I didn’t know they were a scammer,” Veres said.
The best way for a property owner to seek recourse is to use the online property fraud alert service through MyPalmBeachClerk.com.
Sklar told WPTV that real estate agents should also keep an eye out for red flags. Among other things, when the purported seller emails a potential buyer about a sale, when he or she asks the buyer to transfer money internationally, when the seller doesn’t want to close in person, or when the seller normally claims he or she is too busy traveling to sign documents in person.
“It was the craziest situation I’ve ever experienced in 23 years in business,” Sklar said.