Too many people are getting scammed, conned, and bamboozled into buying a fake item and getting their money stolen from their accounts.
Being that we’ve been selling land and real estate since 2017, we’ve noticed how easy it can be a for a fake company to sell you a fake piece of land.
Yes, that’s right, buying a high ticket item like land through untraditional means can be putting your dollar at risk.
So, in this article, we’ll show you a few different ways to avoid being scammed and ensure yourself that you won’t be conned by the next dirtbag who’s doesn’t own the land he’s trying to sell you.
Scammers and cons are everywhere and can happen to anyone…
Before I get into the guts of the article, here’s a story that happened to me, where I almost got conned into sending $3,000 to a “buyer”.
Just the other day we received a text and an email from a “seller” looking to send us a Cashiers Check to buy one of our parcels for sale. He then sent us a physical, legitimately looking, “cashiers check” with the full amount PLUS an extra $3,000.
But… I smelled something fishy about it.
First off, he overpaid for the land. Claiming that those are for the “Shipper” who’s coming to pick up the items needs to get paid so hence, the extra payment. That’s the first red flag. “What Items?!?” I asked. This is land. There are no items except for the Deed which I have to notarize and send to the county.
He kept repeating the same instructions, “Please go and cash the check, then with the extra money that I overpaid, Please wire the extra back to me”.
I knew something was up, so I called the bank where the Cashier check originated from…. and it turned out, that the bank doesn’t have any record of this check. I Googled into it, and found that this is a common con-play; the cashiers check often clears at first sight with the bank teller, but only weeks later you find out that the check was a fake after you already sent money to the “buyer”.
I immediately started the process of…. cussing the guy out on text and calling him a maggot to society.
So, that’s my story to show that they are everywhere. And so, we segway into how easy is it exactly to get scammed into “buying” fake land, and how to avoid it.
Cheap land for sale is great… but a little fishy…
How easy is it to get dupped in land?
Well, here’s how it works with legitimate land selling companies: They buy a piece of property directly from a seller, then they immediately start marketing it to find a buyer for it. Once a buyer raises their hand to say, “yes I want to buy it now”, then they send a payment invoice over to the buyer.
Now, what’s fishy about all this?
It‘s that you (as the buyer), have no way of verifying IF this is the rightful owner of the parcel of land you’re about to buy.
Anyone can come up to you and say, “Hey I own this land in the mountains for sale, would you like to buy it? Ok, here’s the invoice for $5,000. Thank you.”. Then after you pay him/her, that person can disappear with your money and no deed to the property.
So how do you verify if this land seller is the rightful owner?
Well here are 2 ways to easily check for yourself
1. Call the county yourself
This is the easiest way to answer the question. Just Google “[name of the county that the land is in] County Recorder “, get a phone number, then call them and ask, “I’m looking to buy this parcel (provide them with the APN #), I’d like to verify who owns it?”
(NOTE: some counties may refer to their Recorder as “Clerk”, or some may only use their Assessor for recording purposes. Assessors can give you the same information as well when it comes to ownership.)
2. Get on the County Recorder/assessor website
Some counties have very user-friendly websites where you can on the Recorders/Assessors site and look at the history of the property. You can see who owned in the past, taxes, how much they paid for it, etc.
Every County is different. So, you have to play around with the sites to figure it out.
So you know who owns this property… Now what?!
Ok, so the proposed “Land Seller” claims to be Mr. John Smith who owns the land. And, you’ve verified with the county who owns it. So what?!?
I just showed to you anyone can find out who owns and that means that anyone can claim to be the owner.
The proposed “Land Seller” is asking for an upfront payment, without any proof. Well, here’s what you can do to increase your trust (or distrust) in him/her:
1. How credible is he/she?
Is this a “Joe Schmo” you found on the street and has no credibility online? Do they have an indication of some sort of credible business online? Do they have a record of past sales?
Ultimately you’ll have to determine this for yourself and “feel” out the trust factor in this seller.
Here at The People’s Land Company, we are constantly working to increase our credibility and trust with our customers by getting many testimonials, having a presence with Google, having documents of our existing business (as of 2019, our legal name is VPI Group LLC)
2. Do they have copies of the deed
If they have a copy of the last deed then that’s a sure sign they own the property. The original with a wet signature from the notary is even better.
Yes, anyone can go and obtain the deeds online, print them and say, “Look here’s a copy of the deed”… but only the owner has the original.
Here at our company, we have documents and can show you true ownership when customers ask. We believe in transparency and honesty so we don’t hide anything.
3. When in doubt…
If you’re still in doubt there are few extras you can do:
- Call the notary who did the signing of the original deed – The notary was in communication with the original seller and buyer and can help you determine if this is THE owner you’re speaking with.
- Before you fork over any money, have them prepare and notarize the new deed – Once a full cash payment is made for the purchase of land, then the recording of the new notarized deed is made at the County office. However, to go even further to verify ownership, you can ask the seller to get the new Deed notarized before any payment is made and before any recordings are made. If they get a deed notarized, then that’s a sure proof that they are the owners. Once they show you the notarized deed (showing you as the new owner), then you can call the notary who did it to verify, then you can be 100% sure it’s them.Now, most Land Sellers won’t RECORD that new deed until full payment is made, but now you can comfortably hand-over payment.WARNING: Only do this if you are 100% sure you are buying the property. If you go around asking every landowner to do this, then pulling out of the deal, you’re just going to tick people off because getting documents notarized cost time and money and your name could spread around to other Land Companies as someone who wastes peoples time and money.
- Ask for an escrow. – This can be a little more costly and time-consuming. But, it’s the ultimate safeguard. Some Land Companies might not do it because of the cost and time.Some (like us) will allow it if the buyer pays for the total costs, and places a non-refundable deposit. the downside that Land Companies don’t like about it, is that it can take a month or more to close escrow, and if you pull out, then it’s lost time and opportunity for them- so keep that in mind.
There’s a multitude of things you can do to secure your trust before forking over a big wad of cash to buy land. Keep in mind the land scams that are going on in the world and be wary of anyone who doesn’t seem credible. Ask for more proof, and when in doubt, pull out.