In my line of work, I occasionally run across outfits with the sole purpose of committing fraud. Their schemes differ but have common elements: They promise some great reward if only the victim will send them money. In more pernicious cases, they threaten some great harm, albeit fictional, that only they can fix if you pay them to do so. Of course, these outfits are not in the US and so are hard to get to. Yet they use US phone numbers and addresses.
What is amazing is how many people fall for these schemes. People just want to believe that it is true. I have known highly intelligent and accomplished individuals, including lawyers, who have been duped.
The latest I have seen is Colorado Real Estate Dynamics. This was a legitimate Colorado real estate firm that got its business identity stolen. See the owner’s story at the Better Business Bureau site. The illegitimate Colorado Real Estate Dynamics finds a foreign condo for sale and dupes the owner by claiming some rich foreign buyer wants to purchase the condo for a premium price. Yet, the outfit claims that there are items that need to be paid ahead of the sale, such as late condo fees, and requests money to pay those items. It claims that the money will go into escrow, naming a fake escrow company. Of course, the victim never sees that money again.
This particular outfit is slick. It hijacked the phone number from the legitimate business. It has a fancy and convincing website, at first using the URL from the legitimate business, and when that was shut down, creating a similar URL. If you call, it has a recorded phone tree that sounds legitimate. It claims to be located at the street address of the legitimate company, and its personnel even claim that the legitimate company’s owner is their boss.
This outfit is so bold that it called me to try to convince me to advise my client to go through with the “transaction.” An “assistant” called me to make the appointment with the “broker.” I didn’t keep the appointment because by then I knew that the company was a fraud. When clients bring me transactions that they hope are legit, I often suggest that refer the company to me. Usually the company won’t bother. Colorado Real Estate Dynamics apparently thinks it can dupe an attorney. Apparently it has been successful with at least one attorney.
On behalf of my client, I spoke with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, which investigated Colorado Real Estate Dynamics and has determined that it is fraudulent. I also called a business at the address at which Colorado Real Estate Dynamics claims to be located and verified that no business by that name, or even type, exists there. A New York lawyer has done further investigation.
I’ve also been targeted by grifters. Someone in Canada sent me this cashier’s check along with a letter asking me to facilitate a real estate transaction here in San Juan County. The writer referenced a real property for sale and the real estate agent who was listing it. The check looks real. But my investigation showed that it is not.
The bottom line is, don’t give money to a company unless you are absolutely sure that it is legitimate. If you are supposed to receive money, it is very rare that you would have to pay money to receive it. Being asked to pay money so that you can receive money is a big red flag. If you are unconvinced, it is worth having a lawyer look at the proposed transaction to determine whether it is legit. Bottom line: be skeptical!
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