A Johnston County man lost a large sum of money in a real estate scam. Authorities said the scam appears to be isolated but they want to warn others about it.
The victim, a Cleveland-area businessman, was looking online for real estate and saw a social media listing for a tract of land for sale near Wallace, NC in Duplin County. The victim made contact with the scammer, who posed as a real estate agent with a fictitious company. The real estate company’s name was bogus but it was similar to a legitimate southeastern NC real estate firm. The victim and agent agreed on a purchase price and stated a representative from a Duplin County law firm handling the closing would contact them.
A second scammer, posing as a paralegal with the Duplin County law firm, sent an email providing instructions on how his Johnston County bank could wire $25,000 to the attorney to handle the closing.
The victim had his bank wire the money. Days later, he realized the real estate listing was fake and the money he wired went to the scammers, who didn’t own the land, and were likely overseas.
The Duplin County Sheriff’s Office said they were not familiar with any scams involving fake real estate listings.
Fraudsters set up fictitious websites or create fake ads making it seem like they are legitimate. They often steal photos from legitimate listings to place in their ads. Scammers often spoof phone numbers, websites, and email addresses that appear familiar, but can be one number or letter off.
Before wiring money, verify the instructions with a live person on a phone from a number you have called and verified first. Officials say you should avoid doing transactions by telephone or by email. Demand a face-to-face meeting to confirm the property ownership and sign any documents in person. And, when possible, make the payment in person with a check or money order.
The Johnston County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the scam. It is unlikely they’ll be able to recover the stolen money.