Stop Senior Scams: Beware of real estate fraud
By Jeremy Rodriguez
According to the Federal Reserve’s most recent Survey of Consumer Finances, Americans age 75 and older have a median net worth of $254,800. When older adults purchase real estate, they often put their life savings into buying a home. This large purchase is an attractive target for scammers.
One way in which scammers target older adults is through real estate wire fraud. These crimes typically start with cyber criminals using public information relating to real estate, giving them the details they need to send targeted and timely emails to someone involved in a deal. The older adult may receive a text message or an email with a “phishing” link that could download malware when clicked, ultimately accessing login credentials. After gaining access to the person’s account, scammers can monitor an email account then intercept closing instructions by impersonating a trusted party and divert wire transfers.
AARP recommends confirming all wire transfers by phone or in person. Be sure to call the number you were originally given for your real estate agent. Do not call any number listed in a new email. Additionally, be wary if you receive last-minute instructions to wire over funds.
Scammers can try to ask for money up front in other ways, as well. While some older adults possess wealth, many have financial difficulties and struggle to make ends meet each month. Scammers can also target older adults whose mortgages are past due with homes about to enter foreclosure. Be aware that it is illegal for a company or person to request an upfront payment for foreclosure prevention services before delivering results.
However, the law does not necessarily protect all homeowners from fraud. A new real estate scam called “Non-Title Recorded Agreements for Personal Services” (NTRAPS) has also recently emerged. This is when predatory real estate brokers offer upfront cash to homeowners for the rights to sell their home. These agreements obligate homeowners to use that broker in the future and failure to comply can cost the homeowner 3% of the home’s worth. Currently, 16 states have NTRAPS legislation. Unfortunately, Pennsylvania is not one of them.
To avoid real estate scams, the best advice is to work only with licensed professionals, and always be vigilant about sharing your personal information.
You can report real estate fraud and other scams to the Federal Trade Commission by calling FTC’s Consumer Response Center at 1-877-382-4357 or going online to ReportFraud.ftc.gov. Financial exploitation of older Philadelphians can also be reported to Philadelphia Corporation for Aging’s Older Adult Protective Services unit at 215-765-9040.
Free legal help for housing matters
Older Philadelphians, age 60 and older, can receive free legal advice and services for housing-related matters. Homeowners can seek assistance for foreclosures, sheriff sales, deed transfers, real estate and inheritance taxes, and clearing a “tangled” title to a property (when you live in a home you own but your name is not on the deed). Renters can also seek legal assistance for evictions, landlord/tenant disputes and other housing related matters.
PCA subcontracts with the following two agencies to provide free legal services to assist older Philadelphia residents:
- Community Legal Services – 1410 W. Erie Ave. | 215-227-2400 | clsphila.org
- SeniorLAW Center – 1650 Arch St., Suite 1820 | SeniorLAW Helpline: 1-877-727-7529 | seniorlawcenter.org
For more information, call the PCA Helpine at 215-765-9040 or go to pcaCares.org/legal-services.
Jeremy Rodriguez is a freelance journalist, blogger, editor and podcaster.