<<<UPDATE 6/14/2011>>> Real estate agents, house sellers & title agents throughout the US have contacted me both privately and publicly, sharing their experience with (this) scam.
- One email came from a lady who claimed they have LOST ~$6,000 to this scam. She claims they paid to move out of their home, expecting to sell. She paid movers, cleaners and a short-term leasing agent for the place they no longer need. Wow.
- A couple emails allegedly have come from people identifying themselves as “closing agents” who (on condition of anonymity – I understand why) claim they violated their own policy by refunding escrow before clearing funds. If true, Ouch!
- I’ve heard from MANY real estate agents whose quick thinking stopped this scam from wasting people’s time, energy & MONEY! One of those agents is Rich Vinesett of ReMax United in Cary, NC. Rich sent me a copy of a passport (see below) that the scammers provided him when Rich demanded proof of identification. Rich adds, “Notice the signature line in English looks nothing like Hirao Noriaki.”
PLEASE inform everyone you know (including real estate agents, house sellers, real estate attorneys & title agents) to beware a real estate SCAM targeting HOUSE SELLERS throughout the United States.
What you are about to hear is a scam that could have been WORSE. In fact, in the past few hours I have received emails from realtors and closing agents admitting they too faced a similar scam.
SADLY, some of these real estate agents and closing agents admitted damage much, much worse than I faced. No doubt, these scammers really are causing damage beyond lost time & lost opportunity to sell at list price.
NOTICE: If you are out of the area (or country) and want to buy a Sarasota home for sale, for instance, PLEASE understand we must confirm you are legitimate before taking seriously your request to purchase. This is how it is now….
Last week, I received an email from a person identifying herself as an assistant to a person (buyer) identified as “Seiichiro Matsubayashi“. Here’s where the SCAM begins….
PLEASE click Read More below now to grab the rest of this shocking scam, already sucking in many real estate and closing agents, spitting out home sellers as well.
REAL ESTATE SCAM HITS SARASOTA COUPLE
Instantly, I recalled a businessman from Japan with Canadian ties named Seiichiro (same name as this person) whom I had helped purchase a property a few years ago in Orlando, Florida.
If not for this recollection, I would not have let down my guard. As it was, I let down my guard for just a second to a scammer also named Seiichiro Matsubayashi.
Mr. “M” Is Not “S. Matsubayashi”
I *THOUGHT* I was hearing once again from a legitimate buyer.
I *THOUGHT* I already had confirmed this Mr. M.
Therefore, I didn’t question my point of contact (an assistant to Mr. Matsubayashi), who informed me Mr. Matsubayashi requested I serve as his Sarasota Realtor with the following criteria:
- Minimum 4 bedrooms, 2 baths
- Private, safe neighborhoods
- $400,000 – $500,000
- Close quickly as possible
Clearly, the Mr. M. I had known (of) was a private or very busy person, who assigned an assistant to be my point of contact and who did NOT want (or plan) to SEE the property. It was sight unseen then as it was to be sight unseen this time as well.
Years ago, I never received much help from Mr. M’s assistant regarding what Mr. M. wanted, i.e. specific location & amenities. On price alone, I sent listings then as I did this time.
You see, I sincerely *thought* I was dealing with a LEGITIMATE buyer (Mr. M) who this time wanted to buy a Sarasota home for sale.
I sent listings as requested. Within days (both times), I received an email pointing out a specific property and terms on which to submit an offer, similar to what you see below:
“Thanks so much for your email. I will like to offer $499,000.00 on MLS#A39xxxx because I love the curb appeal of this property. Please send me the contract for me to sign and return immediately. This will be my retirement home and it will be a cash buy.1. I will want to close on 8th July, 20102. I want to put down $5,000.00 Earnest money + $150,000.00 down payment towards home.3. I want to put contingency on inspection on the contract.4. Please include all requisite disclosures.
Obviously, I demanded proof of funds – which promptly arrived as an email attachment (see image below):
And then I received the following information from this fraudster:
My legal name is Seiichiro Matsubayashi of 2000 Sheppard Avenue, Toronto Ontario Canada M3N 2J1. I will not be in Canada before the closing date to wire the funds to the closing attorney so I will advice (sic) you to send me the closing attorney information for a check to be drawn to give enough time for check clearance since I wont (sic) be in Canada to wire funds for closing.Please forward me a purchase contract agreement in docusign format, docusign format is an electronic way of signing document.My Canadian Rep Mr. Edward Brown Esq will Issue payment in US Funds $155,000.00USD for the earnest money and the down payment for the property payable to closing attorney, the check will deliver to the closing attorney.My Rep Mr. Edward Brown Esq can be reach at:1-416-824-1768 Email: firstname.lastname@example.orgPlease I need the following information for the closing attorney immediately at my own expenseClosing Law Firm Name……………………………………………Law Firm Address……………………………………………….Law Firm Telephone………………………………………………Lawyer’s Name…………………………………………………..RegardsSeiichiro Matsubayashi
From past recollection, Mr. “M” had presented a similar proof of funds. Keep in mind, all this time I’m associating this Seiichiro with a LEGITIMATE person who really closed on a property.
Anatomy Of A Scam!
Everything about this attempted transaction normally WOULD have set off alarm bells:
- Most buyers do NOT buy sight unseen.
- Most buyers provide detailed guidance regarding what they want in a house.
- Most buyers are available by phone or at least an assistant is available.
- Most buyers in this income bracket and their representatives are well-spoken AND well-written, even if English is not their primary language. They’re bright, articulate & professional.
On a Friday, I presented the buyer’s offer in person to the sellers and the seller’s agent.
The seller countered on minor items including the closing date, to which FAKE buyer agreed. With all paperwork completed with a scheduled August 2 closing date, I could not stop questioning two nagging issues – small but just enough to nag at me:
- Buyer’s “assistant’s” writing skills were atrocious — not so previously.
- Buyer insisted I front the home inspection fee – not so previously.
By Friday night when I should have been happy to have an “executed” contract with a closing date, I’m disturbed instead. 2 issues prompt (rather FORCE) me on Saturday to research.
On Saturday, I unearth another shocking “nail in the coffin”:
- Turns out “Mr. M” from years ago was not this Mr. M”. Definitely not the same name. Yes, it was a name I couldn’t pronounce but not THIS last name: Matsubayashi.
- Google search points me to other real estate agents scattered throughout the country who also faced this SCAM. For some agents, the buyer’s name was different. For some agents, this scam went too far – sellers actually moved out in anticipation of closing. Perhaps worse, a couple title agents did not wait to clear funds before REFUNDING the fake buyer’s money.
Smells Like A Scam; Must Be A Scam!
On Monday, I quickly contacted CIBC, the Canadian Bank from which this bank statement provided proof of funds. As expected, no Seiichiro Matsubayashi banked there with $3.4MM.
Then, I called Barnes-Walker Title in Bradenton, Florida, to alert them. Kathi, title agent, had not yet received the cashier’s check for $155,000. Nonetheless, she passed me to Garrett Barnes, who appreciated my head’s up, adding a Weichert Realtor had experienced something similar recently as well.
Just off the phone with Barnes-Walker and I received a call indicating Barnes-Walker had received the cashier’s check for $155,000:
- Check arrived in a plain white envelope – no return address.
- Check was drawn on a noted Canadian law firm’s account – see check image below
- Envelope was not even metered – just a single stamp.
With sufficient proof to warrant FRAUD, I emailed the “buyer,” asking him/her/them if this was attempted FRAUD. I didn’t expect a response or the truth.
Surprisingly, I received an email saying, “No not at all we know who did that it was one of our employee who was sack did all that but the case is in court.”
Yeah, right, the case is in court…a “sacked” employee. The old days of providing cashier’s checks to close are gone – or should be gone – for out-of-area property buyers.
New “Rules” – No Money; No Deal!
Buyers’ ALERT: If you want to submit an offer on Sarasota real estate, please understand the need for wired funds to open escrow and proceed to closing. Should you provide earnest money and immediately try to cancel for a refund of earnest money, you will wait for average of 10 days according to various title agents and attorneys.
At the center of this unfortunate SCAM are two people (SELLERS) who in good faith entered into what they thought was the sale of their home. Even though we caught this early – earlier than some apparently facing a similar scam – these people are inconvenienced.
If you or someone you know wants to buy or sell a house in or around Sarasota (FL), please call me now at 941-914-9980. I will help you avoid scams. PLEASE also go below to leave a comment. If you’re a real estate agent or attorney, have you experienced this scam? How far did it go before someone caught it?
[Update October 16] These scammers will not give up. Today, I received another solicitation off Trulia. We real estate and closing agents MUST come together to HELP insulate property sellers from this kind of “phishing” attempt that already has damaged some agents and sellers (see email solicitation below):
Another alias: Jirou Hayashi – email address: email@example.com
As more developments occur in this insidious scam, I will keep you posted. If you have been approached in any way re: this scam, PLEASE post your details here on my blog. WE can’t help everyone who doesn’t get suspicious and “google” this scam. For those who do go to Google to confirm suspicions, they will SEE all this documented proof of the scam (attempt).
I continue to receive calls and emails from agents, home sellers & closing agents (both title and lawyers) throughout the US re: this scam. Scammers apparently are NOT letting up. Names, amounts & addresses have changed, but the MO remains the same.
With ZERO regard or concern, state & federal agencies (who SHOULD care and respond) do NOT seem to care how this scam is inconveniencing (at the least) and stealing identity & money from people (at the worst).
I have contacted:
- Federal Bureau of Investigation
- Florida State Attorney’s Office
- Orlando Board of Realtors
- www.TRULIA.com – the website from which many real estate agents are being contacted.
- Florida Association of Realtors
- National Association of Realtors – with both Florida and NAR, I have been extremely disappointed. This SCAM continues causing emotional and financial LOSS. With 1.2 MILLION dues-paying members, NAR could take a proactive role by shooting off ONE SIMPLE email warning all licensees of this scam!
This real estate SCAM hitting Sarasota, Florida, and big/small cities throughout the country forces all of us to be more vigilant & LESS trusting. Please pass this to any friend, family member or co-worker who is selling a house; real estate agent; real estate attorney; and/or closing agent you know who works with sellers. PLEASE alert ALL of them.