Real estate agents along the Connecticut shoreline are warning that scams involving the sale of vacant land are on the rise in Fairfield County and headed your way.
Agents in south central Connecticut say they’ve thwarted attempts by overseas con artists who impersonate owners of vacant land to sell the properties to unsuspecting buyers — a scam that’s come to light recently after a South-Africa-based con artist successfully sold an unbuilt lot in Fairfield for $350,000 to local developers who then began construction on a $1.5 million house.
Jules Etes, a real estate agent in Guilford, told CT Examiner that she has been targeted three separate times in the last few months, as the scammers attempted to sell vacant lots in Madison, Clinton and Hamden with William Pitt Sotheby’s International Realty.
“It’s frustrating and it’s annoying because as an agent, you get so excited when there’s a lead,” Etes said. “And then through each twist and turn you go, ‘Wait a minute. Something’s not right.’”
Etes said that because she was familiar with the area and knew some of the actual property owners, she was able to catch onto the grifts.
In the case of the lot at 51 Sky Top Terrace in Fairfield, the property has been owned by New York resident Daniel Kenigsberg since 1991. He filed a lawsuit last month in federal court against the developers and real estate attorney claiming that he was unaware of the sale until the framing on the new house was complete. As of Thursday, Fairfield land records still list the developers as the current property owners. The listing agent from the October sale did not respond to a request for comment.
“I can see how it happens,” Etes said of the Fairfield property. “People should be knowledgeable, especially if they have vacant land. They should really keep tabs on it.”
Etes said some of the scammers she’s dealt with are convincing – they use email addresses with the actual property owners’ names, have intimate knowledge of the property and seem eager to sell as quickly as they can.
In one instance, Etes said she received a message from someone attempting to sell a vacant lot at 155 New Road in Madison. She said she researched the property owner – a local development corporation – and got in touch with one of the agents, who assured her that he was not selling the land.
“The guy that was contacting me through text gave me an email address that was actually this man’s name with his middle initial at outlook.com,” Etes said. “You would never have known it wasn’t him unless you went this far with it.”
While agents selling a house must tour the property and collect the relevant documentation, Etes said there is little an agent can do to verify vacant lot owners – especially when the scammers don’t meet in person or talk over the phone.
“If they just have a vacant property that they’ve done nothing to, it’s just raw land. There isn’t really any documentation they would provide,” she said.
Based on town property records, the scammers could have stolen about $250,000 in the Madison sale, about $130,000 from an attempt to sell a lot at 1 Houperts Way in Clinton, and about $60,000 from 18 Barraclough Avenue in Hamden had Etes not caught on.
She said William Pitt Sotheby’s leadership has warned agents of the increase in fraudulent emails and text messages, and asked staff to be vigilant.