Utah warns of spate of sham vacant land sales

Scammers pretend to own vacant lots, eroding trust in the real estate markets.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Utah warns residents about fraudulent sales of vacant lots.

Regulators are warning Utah residents of a spate of sham sales of vacant land.

State Division of Real Estate officials say they are aware of at least 10 recent cases in which scammers posed as the owner of vacant lots or vacant lots and listed the properties for sale on sites such as online marketplace Zillow or through official realtors.

Margaret Busse, executive director of the state Department of Commerce, said in a news release that these scams are “particularly damaging because they erode confidence in the real estate market at a time when we want to encourage continued engagement in the economy.”

The re-emergence of sham sales of vacant lots and lots, Busse said, “means buyers need to be extra cautious with this particular type of listing.”

Because properties across Utah are currently often sold at a premium, these scams usually relate to properties that are directly owned, a department spokesman said, with bogus owners often posing as living out of state and only via text or E -Communicate mail.

Fraudulent sellers, the department added, often act as if they are in a hurry to complete the transaction, or act aggressively or distantly, claiming they cannot meet on site and can only sign documents remotely.

In at least two of the 10 most recent incidents, potential buyers were tricked into transferring funds electronically, said Zach Whitney, spokesman for the Commerce Department.

It remains unclear whether public notaries are also involved in some of these projects, which, according to the warning, rarely affected vacant condominiums, or whether fake sellers are presenting false IDs to pretend to be real owners.

Vacant lots, or parcels of land, are an easier target in these plans, according to Jonathan Stewart, director of the State Division of Real Estate, “because there is little reason to physically visit the property.”

“Without a building or house to walk through,” Stewart said in the press release, “scammers can post photos and more easily impersonate the seller.”

Even when potential buyers visit the property, the department added, there may be little evidence that the actual owner and the person listing the sale aren’t the same.

Other red flags in these scams are:

• Seller does not reside in Utah and may claim to reside abroad.

• The property is listed as ‘For Sale by Owner’.

• The undeveloped property is quoted well below market value.

• The seller does not disclose any details about the property, including homeowners association taxes or transaction fees, utilities or water rights.

The state real estate department asked licensed real estate agents to “take extra precautions” to avoid fraud when selling property. This includes due diligence in checking IDs and verifying against land registers that sellers actually own the properties they claim to be selling.

Those who discover fake listings should bring them to the attention of the hosting sites or brokerage firms in question. You can report them to the Department of Real Estate at realestate.utah.gov.

https://www.sltrib.com/news/2022/12/10/beware-bogus-land-sales-utah/ Utah warns of spate of sham vacant land sales

Justin Scacco

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