No matter how few buyers are due to the crisis, there's a category of real estate properties for which the number of emails sent from potential buyers worldwide has significantly increased. Surprisingly, these properties are those offered at high selling prices, usually exceeding € 2,000,000. The problem is that, in most cases, the people behind these emails are far from who they claim to be.
What is Nigerian 419 fraud?
Most of you probably receive dozens of annoying spam mails every day. The majority of these emails is harmless and aims to make you buy some useless product. There are many spam mail senders, though, who aim to con you. In order to succeed, they may ask you to type your credit card number or your web banking access codes claiming they are your bank, or pay a small deposit in order to receive a large amount of money that you've won. Methods are countless and in most cases the worst that can happen to you is loosing your money. Still, there is a group of spam mails which, among others, is extremely dangerous and can cause you even more harm.
Let's see an example: Someone receives an email from a lawyer's office that claims he inherited a large sum from a distant relative who lived abroad and passed away. If the recipient contacts the senders, then he sets out a circle of frequent contacts that aim to convince him of the initial claim. Finally, the heir is asked to travel abroad in order to obtain what he inherited, carrying an amount that will cover lawyer and notary expenses. As you've figured, no part of this story is real but, if the victim decides to travel abroad, then he will have done a tragic mistake. Victims of this type of fraud usually loose huge amounts and, sadly, in many cases they end up abducted for ransom or even murdered.
Fraud cases where the victim is asked to pay an advance fee in order to receive a larger sum are called Nigerian 419, due to where they initially showed up in a large scale. If you believe that you couldn't possibly be duped by the above story, then note that Nigerian 419 frauds come in many variations that evolve and get more and more convincing every day. Victims are convinced by several means; what would you believe, for example, if they claimed that they've deposited $100.000 into your banking account which you would be able to see with your own eyes by checking your balance online?
Nigerian 419 real estate fraud
"Hello, I am interested in the property of this advert and would like some further information. Please, contact me at 0039.349.610.XXXX.
Regards, Michael Fares."
No matter how innocent or common it seems, this is one of the many Nigerian 419 emails that we have received in the mail addresses of our agency. The past few years, Nigerian 419 scams have spread widely into the field of real estate. And, as the financial crisis continues, the number of such emails hits top due to the ease of convincing people who are desperate for cash. For one of our agency's expensive properties, for example, 70% of the requests we've received until now was a Nigerian 419 mail.
How to distinguish a fraudulent email
The above email does look like an actual buyer's request but it's not exactly the same. Fraudulent real estate request emails are usually sent through contact forms by automated programs and in large numbers all around the globe. What this means is that the sender has never read your advert before sending the message and, as a result, he has no idea what it is that you are selling. The fact that the sender is asking for “further information” instead of, for example, how many bedrooms the house has, is a warning that this is a fraudulent request.
Any seller, though, would call that telephone number in order to find out what this is about and common sense agrees with that. In that case, try to find out if the sender knows what you are selling. If it is a fraud, then this will be the first thing he is probably going to ask. If your advert included important characteristics of the real estate property (such as selling price or location) and the person at the end of the line has no idea about it, then this is almost certainly a fraud and what we recommend you to do is hang up the phone.
If you didn't realize this was a fraud from the beginning
Nigerian 419 impostors are most times persistent and will try to convince you to their identity by many ways. Even if you rudely hang up the phone from the very first call, you may still receive a second call where they will try to convince you that they really want to buy the property. A common tactic of cons is to ask you to visit their website or check their name in a big brand's employees' lists. But remember that, even if you see the number you dialed on hilton.com, nothing is impossible on the internet, especially when it comes to criminals trying to steal a huge amount. In general, the impostors will do their best to convince you and gain your trust, even if it takes them months to succeed.
Commonly, what you will be asked to do is to pay an advance fee for a reason that in some cases may even sound reasonable. Another possible outcome would be you receiving their advance fee by a counterfeit check. The scammers will then ask you to cash the check and send them the money through bank or wire transfer, claiming they want to cancel the purchase. Some scammers may ask you to travel and meet them abroad, which is extremely dangerous. No matter what the reasons or circumstances are, do nothing from what they ask you, even if it sounds completely safe.
If you suspect that you have been dealing with scammers, ask for advice from an expert and report the incident to the local authorities. Be very cautious if you have revealed your personal data to the scammers, such as your credit card, bank account or even your passport number.