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On Your Side: Tips to avoid real estate fraud

On Your Side: Tips to avoid real estate fraud
On Your Side: Tips to avoid real estate fraud 04:12

The FBI put out a warning to the public last year about real estate scams after a 64-percent increase from 2020 to 2021.

A local man nearly had his property sold out from under him in an elaborate real estate scam.  He almost fell victim -- until his "nosy neighbor" stepped in.

That old phrase "Know your neighbors" -- well, Jeorge Dance feels incredibly lucky to know his.

"My guardian angel, my neighbor Maribel," said Jeorge.

Maribel Munoz was doing dishes last month when she looked out her kitchen window and noticed strangers standing in her rose bushes, taking photos and scoping out the vacant lot next door, owned by Jeorge.

"They were three people taking measurements and that's when I called Jeorge," said Maribel.

"She called me and said 'Jeorge, are you planning on constructing on it?' And I said 'No, why?' And she said 'Well there's people measuring the place off,'" said Jeorge.

He dismissed the trespassers as nosy neighbors, but Maribel wasn't so sure. She's a licensed realtor, so she looked up Jeorge's property and found that it was listed for sale on Zillow.

"It's absolutely like, right away, somebody is doing a fraudulent sale here," said Maribel.

Jeorge called police, and the listing agent.  

"According to the broker, it was a cash-only sale, which requires no funding from banks, so it would close any day, the broker said," said Jeorge.

Jeorge was days away from having the title of his mortgage-free investment transferred to someone else.

"My investment gone -- it was that close," said Jeorge.

LAPD Detective Brian Calicchia is handling Jeorge's case. He says the fraudulent deal was done over the phone and with electronic signing.

"All property information, as far as title vesting, is all accessible, it's all public information, so there are people that know how to search for this information and how to obtain it, and from there all it takes is for a little bit of internet research to gain enough knowledge about that person to impersonate them," said Calicchia.

In order to better protect your property, Calicchia says to put it in a trust or put several people on the deed so it requires multiple signature for a sale.

A lien or a mortgage on the property also makes it less desirable to thieves.

The Los Angeles County Assessor's Office also encourages all property owners to sign up for its new email notification system, which alerts them of any lien or grant deed recorded against their property much quicker than the 30 days it takes to be notified by mail.

"You'll get an email within 48 hours, which will give you much more of a head start to respond and to know whether or not that recording is legal or not," said County Assessor Jeff Prang.

Jeorge Dance's case is still under investigation. The LAPD is trying to track down the scammer.

Detective Calicchia says real estate scams like this have skyrocketed since the pandemic.

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