LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Unsuspecting owners, buyers, and even licensed real estate and insurance professionals can be victims of real estate identity theft and fraud, according to Nevada state officials.

The Nevada Division of Insurance and the Nevada Real Estate Division issued an alert Thursday about a prevalent real estate identity theft scam known as “vacant lot fraud” or “seller impersonation fraud” and it occurs when bad actors impersonate the owners of a property or vacant lot and attempt to sell it for their own profit.

State officials said the best way to avoid the scam is to know what red flags to look for and how the scam works. Officials said scammers search public records to identify owners of real estate that have no mortgage or liens and are usually vacant property, vacation, or rental properties and not occupied by an owner. The scammer poses as the owner and sends falsified documents for the closing and the money is transferred to the scammer.

The scam is not usually discovered until the documents are recorded with the applicable county.

Red flags of a possible scam for homebuyers and licensed professionals

  • Seller is difficult to reach via phone or refuses to meet via video call; only communicates by text or email
  • Seller sets the listing price lower than the current market value and wants a fast cash sale with little or no fee negotiation
  • Seller refuses to attend signings; always claims to be out of town
  • Seller requests to use their own notary
  • Seller demands proceeds to be wired
  • Seller has a different address than the owner’s address or tax mailing address
  • Seller refuses or is unable to complete multifactor authentication of identity verification

Precautions to take:

  • Contact the seller directly at an independently discovered and validated phone number
  • Send mail to the seller at the address listed on tax and property records
  • Ask the seller’s real estate agent if they have personal or verified knowledge of the seller’s identity
  • If using a remote notary, be sure the notary is fully vetted and approved by your state, or the title company should arrange for an in-person signing at an attorney’s office, title agency, or bank.
  • Send the seller a link to complete a third-party identity verification
  • Run the seller’s email and phone number through a verification program
  • Ask the seller about the property that isn’t available in public records
  • Compare the seller’s signature to previously recorded public documents
  • Use a wire verification service or confirm wire instructions match the account details on the seller’s disbursement authorization form
  • Require a copy of a voided check with a disbursement authorization form
  • Require that a check be sent for seller proceeds rather than a wire

Property buyers can protect themselves by purchasing the American Land Title Association Homeowner’s Policy of Title Insurance for additional fraud protection.

Victims of fraud should report it immediately to:

Nevada Consumer Affairs

FBI Internet Crime Complaint

Nevada Attorney General’s Fraud Unit

Nevada Secretary of State

Nevada State Police

Federal Trade Commission