A new wrinkle in scams, and this one almost worked on a fraud fighter.
It was so good.
Fraudsters are prowling MLS listings looking for easy targets to pull off utility shut-off scams.
And they are currently on the prowl in Los Angeles, California.
“This Doesn’t Make Sense, This Is Bad News” – Panic and Confusion.
His name is Bryan, and he knows a thing or two about scams since he has worked in the industry for the last 20 years.
“This scam was so good, I almost got fooled,” Bryan texted me on a Saturday morning. “You have to warn people about this because I think it would work on most people.”
“I had just put my house up for sale, and my real estate agent was planning a big open house the next day. I had applied to activate the water just a couple of weeks earlier because I had a renter move out”
“Then my agent got this text about his water being disconnected at his property”, said Bryan, and he gave me a screenshot.
The agent immediately sent the text to Bryan. And that got his mind racing.
He panicked a little.
Had he missed a payment on his water bill? Had it been lost in the mail?
What would happen with his open house the next day?
It will probably turn off would-be buyers interested in the house if the water was disconnected!
“I Need To Take Care Of This Right Away” – Urgency Sets In
Bryan needed to take care of the matter right away. So he quickly dialed the number on the text message to see what was going on.
“Sir, don’t worry; I can cancel the termination if you just make the security deposit – it’s only $995”, said the person on the other end of the line who he assumed was a representative of the water department.
Given it was a Saturday and the house was showing the next day, he just wanted to put the matter to rest.
So, he gave the person his email to get a link for paying the security deposit.
Then he got this email.
“Wait A Second; Things Aren’t Adding Up Here” – The Scam Unravels When He Has Time To Think
After reading the email, while the representative was still on the phone, Bryan went directly to the website for the Department of Water, and his account balance showed $0.
He owed nothing.
He told the person on the line that things were not adding up.
They quickly pivoted and said, “Sir, the only way to avoid getting shut off is to make a direct payment to us via your bank account”
Wait a second; things are not adding up here at all!
Bryan smelled a rat, and told the caller to “$%$$^^” and to Go to “$&^$$” ????.
So How Does This MLS Prowler Utility Scam Work?
Scammers target homes for sale because they can take advantage of the high stakes and emotions involved in the process.
They know that people who are selling their homes are often motivated to close the deal quickly and may be more susceptible to scams, false promises, and cons.
Additionally, scammers know that homes being sold are often vacant and that owners are usually activating or deactivating utility services to the property.
So scammers prowl MLS looking for recent listings which contain detailed information about the property as well as containing information about the real estate agent and their contact information.
Having the agent’s contact information is helpful to the scammer because they know that the message will be passed to the owner from a trusted source.
This makes the scam more believable, urgent, and far more targeted than just robocalling random numbers.
They know real estate agents have a vested interest in ensuring the property is in good shape, so they will always pass the messages to the sellers if they believe it.
Red Flags Of This Scam – How To Avoid It Yourself
After the scam subsided and Bryan had some time to review everything, there were tons of red flags that he was able to pick up on.
- The text message had a weird tilde symbol above Los Angeles.
- Words that should have been capitalized were not.
- There were grammatical errors in the messages throughout
- The email he received had the word “Test” in the subject line
- The email did not contain any personal information about him. It was too generic.
If you believe you have been a victim of a similar scam, be sure to watch out for these same red flags.
Thanks for reading about this new and very interesting scam.