07/9

What Elvis – or at least his home – can teach us about seller impersonation fraud

Remember how Graceland, Elvis Presley’s famous Tennessee home, was in the news a few weeks ago? Turns out the iconic property was targeted by a fake seller/scammer. While this incident was quickly thwarted, with the alleged fraudsters even acknowledging they were caught, it’s important to continue raising awareness.

Why? Because seller impersonation, a scheme where cybercriminals attempt to “sell” property they don’t actually own to unsuspecting buyers before anyone finds out, continues to plague all of us in real estate. It was the scam of 2023 – and is continuing to rise in popularity because it works. First, we’ll look at how the Graceland ordeal played out and then provide tips on how we can fight against these scammers.

What happened with Graceland?

Fraudsters claimed that Lisa Marie Presley, Elvis’s late daughter, had defaulted on a loan that used the Memphis, Tennessee home as collateral and then attempted to take the iconic property to auction.

The sale was halted when Elvis’s granddaughter sued to stop the property’s foreclosure. She and others immediately claimed the loan was fraudulent and supplied plenty of evidence backing this claim. Aside from the scammers ultimately admitting that the paperwork was faked, some other clues were that the scammers tried to claim they used Remote Online Notarization for the loan paperwork in 2018 (RON wasn’t legal in Florida, where the papers were “signed,” until a couple of years later).

Common seller impersonation fraud tactics

These types of fraudsters often target properties owned by deceased people because they can use stolen personal information from the internet to create fake IDs and forge deeds. They then attempt to sell the property or apply for mortgages in the owner’s name. Other properties ripe for this kind of activity include vacant lots, vacation homes, and other places that are paid off and not monitored as much as a primary residence.

If they can get a property listed and can entice a buyer, scammers often want the sale to be in cash and to happen as quickly as possible. They may even insist on using their own notary or other vendors. In other words, unlike what happened with Graceland, these scammers want the sale done with as little fanfare as possible.

Incidents like this can be time-consuming, embarrassing and worse for REALTORS® and other industry professionals who get caught up dealing with fake sellers. So, here are a few ways to ward off these criminals and some reminders on how agents can continue to keep these scammers at bay.

  • Be wary of out-of-nowhere leads for listings that fit the target group, and work to verify that you are indeed dealing with the property owner.
  • Insist on an in-person meeting (or a video call) if you have concerns about a seller not being legitimate. Knowing you are safe and secure is worth a lost listing – even in this market.
  • Let our teams know if you have concerns that your seller isn’t who they say they are.
  • Keep talking to your current and past clients about the dangers of all kinds of fraud we encounter on a regular basis.

Our caring and professional teams are always here to do what we can to keep your transactions secure. It’s just one way we strive to take care of you and your clients. Remember, if something seems off, it probably is! Reach out to us anytime.     

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