Real Estate Fraud: Scammers Selling Land They Don’t Own

The rise of real estate fraud in the United States has left buyers and real estate professionals vulnerable to scammers selling properties they do not own, leading to significant financial losses.

In a shocking case of real estate fraud, a Minnesota-based real estate agent fell victim to a scammer attempting to sell a plot of land they did not own. This incident is part of a growing trend across the country, with the FBI reporting an 86% increase in real estate-related complaints in 2022, resulting in losses of over $396 million. The current housing landscape, coupled with scammers’ use of publicly available records to impersonate property owners, has made real estate professionals more vulnerable than ever. In this article, we explore the rise of real estate fraud, its impact on buyers and agents, and the challenges in detecting and preventing such scams.

Sophisticated Scams Exploiting Vulnerable Real Estate Professionals

Real estate fraudsters have become increasingly sophisticated in their methods, using publicly available records to impersonate property owners and benefit from the sale of vacant properties. The scarcity of available homes for sale has made real estate professionals more desperate for potential deals, making them susceptible to falling for these scams. In a survey conducted by CertifID, 77% of real estate professionals reported an increase in seller impersonation fraud attempts in the last six months, with 54% experiencing at least one such attempt during that period.

Tactics Used by Fraudsters

Scammers employ various tactics to deceive buyers and real estate professionals. With minimal paperwork to prove ownership, they can conduct transactions over the phone and via email, often using fake IDs to further impersonate property owners. Detecting these scams has become increasingly difficult, as fraudsters employ sophisticated techniques to make their communication and identity appear legitimate. The focus of these scams is often on vacant parcels and unoccupied properties that are lien-free, making it harder for buyers to spot the fraud.

Impact on Buyers and Real Estate Professionals

Buyers who fall victim to these scams face significant challenges in recovering their lost funds. They must go through a complex process of filing a title insurance claim, which can be time-consuming and frustrating. The National Association of Realtors warns that buyers caught up in these scams may have to endure a lengthy process to regain their money. CertifID, an organization offering wire fraud protection services, has assisted 378 customers who fell victim to real estate fraud, with 60% of those representing buyers.

The Role of Law Enforcement and Real Estate Firms

When real estate fraud occurs, it is crucial for law enforcement agencies to step in and investigate the matter. In the case of Zuzek’s coworker, the real estate firm involved cooperated with the police, allowing them to take the lead in resolving the situation. However, the process of recovering lost funds can still be time-consuming. Real estate firms and professionals must remain vigilant, adopting robust verification processes to ensure the legitimacy of property ownership before engaging in any transactions.

The Growing Scope of Real Estate Fraud

Real estate fraud has become a pervasive issue across the United States, affecting buyers and real estate professionals alike. The Secret Service has observed a sharp increase in reports of real estate fraud associated with vacant and unencumbered properties. The FBI’s statistics reveal the alarming scale of the problem, with over $396 million lost in real estate-related scams in 2022 alone. This relatively new crime is a cause for concern, requiring increased awareness and proactive measures to prevent further financial losses.


Real estate fraud, specifically the sale of properties by scammers who do not own them, has become a significant problem in the United States. The rise in these scams can be attributed to the vulnerability of real estate professionals and the scarcity of available homes for sale. Buyers who fall victim to these fraudsters face a lengthy process of recovering their lost funds. Law enforcement agencies and real estate firms must work together to combat this growing issue, implementing robust verification processes and increasing awareness to protect buyers and professionals in the real estate industry.






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