Real estate scam weasels more than $30K from Durham man who thought he bought long-time dream

Diane Wilson Image
Thursday, January 12, 2023
Real estate scam weasels more than $30K from Durham man
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CAVEAT EMPTOR: Looking to buy a new home? Don't let this real estate scam fool you.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- A buyer beware warning for anyone looking to buy a new home or property. A Durham man got scammed buying real estate after he found a piece of property listed for sale.

Chris Freeman loves his Durham home that sits on the Willowhaven Golf Course. When looking out his back yard he wants to keep the trees he sees as opposed to anything else being built.

"We greatly prefer the trees to having a house over there. We always said when we moved in that if we had the chance we could not do it. And so, a friend up the street saw the listing the day it hit texted me, and I got in touch with my agent," Freeman said.

The less-than-acre property behind Freeman's property was listed for sale this past summer by a Chapel Hill agent.

"I think it was on the market a day or two before we had an offer in and it took several days for it to be accepted," Freeman recalled.

The listing agent sent an email to Freeman's agent, telling Freeman to wire the $10,000 due diligence to the seller in Vietnam. Before wiring the money, Freeman questioned sending his money that way but was assured by the agent it was fine, so he wired the $10,000 to Vietnam.

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The deal continued to move forward, and at closing, Freeman paid more than $20,000 for the property. The closing documents state that the seller of the property now is in Johannesburg, South Africa.

"We closed mid-August like celebrated we own a lot -- super pumped about that," Freeman said. However about a month after closing, Freeman got a call from his agent. He was told that the listing was fraudulent." You don't own that lot. The people that own it aren't the ones that sold it."

While the name of the seller on the closing documents matches the records with Durham County on who owns the property that was listed for sale, Freeman said the listing agent never verified they were actually talking to the real owner, just someone claiming to be the owner.

"My first question was OK, where's all my money? He was like, 'It's going to be taken care of.' My understanding is you will be made whole," Freeman said he was told by his agent.

Freeman did get about $19,000 back shortly after the fraud was discovered, but he was still almost $12,000 short, which included the fees and taxes he paid at closing, plus the original $10,000 he wired to who he was told was the owner in Vietnam. Freeman said he continued to fight for the remaining money back for months.

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"I can't for the life of me figure out why they would expect me to just eat the cost of their mistake."

Freeman got in touch with Troubleshooter Diane Wilson; she reached out to the listing agent of the property and her firm. They didn't get back to her, but the broker in charge of the listing agent did send Freeman an email, where it stated they exhausted their appeals with their Errors and Omissions insurance, and would be taking care of this themselves. She also apologized for how long it had taken.

Within a week, Freeman got a check for the money owed to him that totaled nearly $12,000. He's happy he has all of his money back and hopes it's an eye-opener to others.

"I want other people to know that real estate fraud is an issue. Real estate agents need to do a little better job of verifying they're talking to the person they think they're talking to."

To make sure you don't lose your money in a real estate deal, if you find a listing for sale by the owner, be very leery of anyone who claims to be the property owner, and if you're asked to wire money directly to the owner. Instead, try and go through a proper closing where the money is put in escrow and goes through a reputable title company.

As in this case, even using realtors you can still get duped, so it's key to ask plenty of questions, and if something doesn't seem right, raise the red flags.