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Today, we're covering a true story involving identity fraud, money laundering, and other white-collar crimes.

Back in May of this year, I saw someone post an article about identity thieves using fraudulent deeds to steal people’s property in Florida.

Then someone else posted another article in the comments about how a couple in Florida was arrested for stealing 67 Florida homes.

Then another guy named Eloy Ochoa left a comment saying that a similar scam almost happened to him in SW Florida.

At first, when I heard about this, I wanted to brush it off as a random thing that almost never happens, but when I started hearing story after story of this happening (all in Florida, for some reason), I knew I had to investigate this further.

So, I reached out to Eloy and he was happy to do a recorded call with me, and that’s what you’re about to hear in this episode.

Links and Resources

Episode Transcription

Seth: Hey, tipsters, how's it going? You are listening to the REtipster podcast. This is episode 134. Show notes for today's episode can be found at retipster.com/134. And this is your buddy, Seth, and I'm coming to you with a true story today about crime, deception, identity fraud, money laundering, and a lot more.

This all started back in May of this year when I saw somebody post an article in our Facebook group about identity thieves using fraudulent deeds to steal people's property in Florida. And when I first saw this, I kind of just wanted to brush it off as some random thing that almost never happens. But then I saw somebody else post another article about separate incidents, about how another couple in Florida was arrested for stealing 67 Florida homes. And then I heard from another person in this same thread, a guy named Eloy Ochoa who left a comment saying that a similar scam almost happened to him in Southwest Florida just recently.

And when I started hearing story after story of this happening, and when I saw there was somebody in our community who had first-hand experience with this, I kind of started feeling like I needed to investigate this further. I reached out to Eloy and he was happy to do a recorded call with me. And that's what you're about to hear in this episode today.

Now, before we jump into it, let me just say right from the outset that there actually is good news at the end of the day, and we're going to get into all that at the very end of this episode after we play the recorded interview here. So, as you're listening to this, if you start to feel a little bit of anxiety, just know that is totally not my intent with this episode. In fact, that's the opposite of what I'm trying to do.

Mainly what I want to do here is just make people aware that this is apparently a thing, and this is actually the first time I have ever heard of this in my 15 years in the real estate world as a banker, a land investor, and a rental property owner. So, I don't think this is a common thing, at least not historically, but it is still a thing. And it's worth being aware of, because I wasn't really aware of it up until just recently. And I wanted to make sure everybody else out there in the land community knew about it. Not because it's common or it's something you need to lose sleep over, but just because it pays to be smart about what can happen and how to spot red flags and different things that you can do to protect yourself.

There actually has been an arrest made in connection with this story that I'm going to be talking about with Eloy. And we didn't even know about this until a couple of weeks after we recorded this interview. So, that's just something to be aware of. And again, I'm going to get into a lot more specifics about that after the interview and the closing comments for this episode. But for now, you can hear what happened and how it all unfolded.

Why don't you just tell the whole story from the very beginning? What happened? What went down here?

Eloy: It's kind of crazy. Basically, I bought a vacant lot in Lehigh Acres, Florida. I bought it cash, was going to flip it for like double the money, your kind of method. And when I start trying to sell it, I get a call, like a random call from my actual seller's phone number. So, you know you have a buyer and seller's phone number from RingCentral. I'm like, “How does this guy get my number?” Because he is like, "Hey, are you selling a lot on Lehigh Acres?" And it kind of shocked me because there's no way he got that number.

The way he got my number is he's a very seasoned buyer of vacant lots in the area. So, he found my company, he found my website, he found my number and he got a hold of me. He's like, "Hey, are you selling this property?" I'm like, "Yeah, I've already sold it." At the time, I was already on contract, waiting for the SRO to go through. And he is like, "No, this other guy's selling it." I'm like, "What? What do you mean? - No, this other guy named Eloy is selling it." I'm like, "I'm Eloy." Well, he sent me a contract. I'm like, there's no way. So, I started getting scared.

Before then, when I was still trying to sell it, I actually contacted the neighbors. I only live an hour away so I actually knocked on the neighbor’s door and asked her, "Hey, I'm selling this lot." She wasn't interested but I gave her my information. After he calls me, a couple of days later, this lady, the next-door neighbor, she's like, "Hey, did you sell the lot?" I'm like, "Yeah, I'm in the process of it." "Well, somebody just cleared it." I'm like, "Wait, how did they clear? I still own the property. I haven't done anything."

Seth: You mean like cut the trees down?

Eloy: They cut the trees down because in Lehigh Acres, there are a lot of trees and brush and stuff and they completely leveled it to the ground. So, I'm like, okay. As soon as I could, that same day, I went and drove to the property and she was right. They cleared it completely. I thought she was talking about the lot next door. I'm like, "Nope. She cleared it completely." I was like, "So do you know who did this?" She said, "There's an Argentinian couple who bought the vacant lot." I'm like, "There's no way. There's no way." And she's like, "Yeah, they had a baby and everything."

And I was confused. So, I go back and call the guy, "Do you have any information on this person who sold you this loft? Do you have an ID? Any contracts, anything with you?" He's like, "No, I was going to sign it, but I wanted to get in contact with you first." So, I started getting kind of scared. He said that he saw it on Zillow. I'm like, "How did you see it on Zillow? I didn't post it on Zillow. The scammers actually put it for sale by owner on Zillow. Because you don't need any kind of verification at all. So, he put it on for sale by owner on Zillow.

Seth: They called you, though, right? Doesn't Zillow have to call you? But you probably just put whatever number you want in there, right?

Eloy: There's no any kind of checks and balances there. So, I was scared because I was trying to remove the listing. They put it at $3,000. The market rate is $15,000 at the time in that specific area. And I was like there's no way. And it was getting higher and higher, the view count, and I was getting more stressed because I actually put a sign there. They removed the sign completely. So I went, rushed to Home Depot, put another sign. My rationale was if I put a sign there, the number they have is going to be different from the number that they got contacted by the scammer from. And they might contact me just to verify because it looks weird.

And it happened. I started getting calls from all these different people that were saying, "Hey, are you selling this property? Because somebody else is selling to me." I have to say like at least eight, nine times and say “No, do not do anything with those people.” And then I got in contact with some of them that actually got contracts. So, they actually got the purchase agreement, which is very, very professional. It was a very professional purchase agreement. They get the purchase agreement and they use like a DocuSign kind of portal.

But the crazy thing is they have the IP address on the very bottom. So, I'm like, "Hey, I'm going to have to make a police report. And there's a big problem making police reports with online fraud. It's very difficult because I live in another county. I told one of the potential victims she hasn't sold it yet. I told them, give me everything that they sent you. So, she sent me the purchase agreement, the phone numbers they were using, the email they were using, and then the title company they were going to use. I'm like, which title company is going to do this?

Seth: Yeah.

Eloy: And then they have a website with the title company. So, I did a little bit of research on the title company. I called my title company to verify if they actually work in the area. Their website was extremely professional. It looked better than actual title company's websites. And I'm like, this is easy, people just off the scam very easily. But then the major thing that had been a red flag for most seasoned investors is that the title company was asking, let's say the purchase price was $3,000. They were asking escrow for $3,000. That doesn't make any sense. You're going to have to put escrow for the full amount?

Seth: You mean like a deposit?

Eloy: Yeah. The deposit, earnest money deposit. Yeah. And I was confused. It didn’t make any sense. Why would he put the full purchase amount as an EMD? And they were like, “Yeah, that's why I thought it was weird because I saw your number.” And I never got to be able to get in contact with the Argentinian couple that cleared the lot, unfortunately. But I got in contact with a whole bunch of different potential victims. I stopped them before they sold it.

And then I got another call from this other lady. She's like, "Oh, they put it for sell by owner.com. So not only they were putting it on Zillow, any website that gives you the ability to post it online, they were calling them and then even on Facebook groups. So, they're using multiple different Facebook accounts. And then I finally got the phone number and started texting the guy from a different number, like a fake Google voice number. So, I start talking to him, I'm like, "Hey, I hear that you're selling some lots in Lehigh Acres." They’re like, "Yeah, sure. I am." And supposedly it was my wife. Because he was sending purchase agreements and signing them with my name to DocuSign.

So, I was getting very scared because now I asked him, “Are you selling any more lots?” Because at the time I only owned one lot in the area. He's like, "Yeah, we do." He gave me a list of five different lots that I didn't even own. Some of them were merged with other houses. So, legally they weren't even lots anymore. They were merged. It was like a completely different thing. I was like, these people are using my name to sign off on properties that I own and I don't own. And I got really scared, honestly. Because I'm like, “It's going to come back at me.”

Seth: Well, it sounds like, I guess, I don't want to say typical, but it sounds like just identity fraud or it's just that they're using it in this case, not to buy a car or use a credit card, but to actually sell real estate on your behalf and collect money.

Eloy: Yeah. But they weren't actually even doing the deeds or anything. They were just making purchase agreements, signing with my name. The purchase agreements were very professional. The people who did this, I have a really good hunch they've done a lot of real estate in the past. The purchase agreements were very professional. The title company website was very professional. They even put a building. The building they put for the title company was something that's under construction. That was being renovated. So even if you Google Map it, you're not going to be able to like actually see the building because it was being renovated at the time.

Seth: If you just kind of recap to make sure I'm following you, they weren't actually transferring any deeds to anybody. They were just collecting $3,000 from multiple people on the same property using your name. Is that right?

Eloy: Yes. For the same properties or other different properties as well because they have a title company that they made a little legitimate and they had another person answering the phone with a title company. I actually got the wiring information from one of the banks they were using. So, when this started happening, I called an attorney friend of mine to see what are my options? What can I do? And he is like, "How did they even have a bank account?" Because this is obvious fraud. And he said, "You know those Facebook links that people tell you, oh, you can make $5,000 in a week? Those links are basically to make the person make a fake bank account." They'll have access to it. They'll give you $5,000, but your information's in that bank account, but they have full access to it. They could wire the money to different bank accounts overseas and you're pretty much done. You can't get that money back. So, the law goes for the person whose bank account, it's the person who got the $5,000 to set it up.

I had the bank account information. I had the IP address. I had multiple different phone numbers from them. The problem is the jurisdiction. I made a police report in my local county, but I was only a victim of identity theft. The other people were victims of almost becoming like in fraud.
I made a police report in my county. I had to make a police report in Lee County where the property is located. But because I wasn't a victim, I couldn't really make the police report on there because they're basically telling me, “Oh, they got to make a police report here, your county.” Vice versa. They're just basically telling me to go make police reports.

And my lawyer friend, he told me you need to get in contact with the Florida department of law enforcement. And then as soon as I told them, they were right on it. I gave them all their information. I still haven't heard back from them yet, but it's still an on-going case, but it was crazy.
And the other thing is I actually started contacting them. I messaged them. I'm like, "Hey, do you sell properties?" And I'm like, "Can I get a hold of the owner?" Because obviously it’s my name. He's like, "No, this is his wife." So supposedly I have a wife now. And then he's like, "Well, no problem. When can I speak with him? - But he speaks French." I'm like, "So I'm going to speak in French now."

“Well, I could go over there and sign the deed myself. There's no problem. I'm actually going to Miami anyways." He's like, “No, no it's just better if you just wired us the money.” I'm like, "No, no I kind of like want to see it. I'm buying a lot of properties. I want to see the person. - No, no, he's busy. He's very busy.” I was kind of trolling the scammer a little bit because he just wanted the money. You just deposit the money they're going to sell fast. They're going to sell fast, wire the money, typical scammer stuff.

So, I got a lot of takeaways on how to avoid those kinds of things. The best ways to avoid is first you got to put a sign on the property. Even if you have to do an Upwork or something or TaskRabbit, put a sign on the property when you own it. Put it on Zillow, put it on forsalebyowner.com even if you're not going to really use old resources, because if you put it on Facebook or anything, they're going to get the information from the Facebook page and then start putting it on those websites.

Seth: It's almost kind of like buying an internet domain. And even if you're not going to use it, at least you own that domain, right? Other people can't step on your toes.

Eloy: Yeah, exactly. And another thing is you have to make sure you know who your buyers are on Facebook because before all this happened, there's a person who originally wanted to buy it. They hit me up. I posted on Facebook first, my biggest mistake, because I put all my information on there. I put it on Facebook first and some woman was interested in buying it. Didn't even want to negotiate. I was still kind of early on because that should have been a red flag already. Didn't even want to negotiate, like “We'll buy it but we have to use our title company.”

I called the title company they recommended. It was a virtual title company. The way they work was they basically just have virtual offices and they'll just do it themselves. And I call the title company, everything looks good. And then I started calling them like a week later, doesn't pick up. I call the lady she doesn't pick up. And another week goes by, I call her again and she's like, "I'm in the hospital now." Big red flag right there. When everybody is in the hospital, there's a big red flag.

And then I think there was a fake account because obviously they blocked it. They blocked her account, the Facebook account, they deleted it. And then when I called the title company, it was gone, the line was disconnected. I think they were calling me to get the information they needed from me to sell my property because they did it too perfectly. And unfortunately, there was a victim that actually called me. She called me before when she was like a potential victim and she didn't believe me. She believed the other people more, even though I told them don't buy it, do not buy it from these people. She wanted to go buy it.
And then she goes back with me and says, "Hey, can I get this police report now? Because I actually bought it. And now I'm out of $3,000." And then I gave her the information for the agent at the Florida department of law enforcement. And unfortunately, she did. I know there's at least two victims. So, they got at least $6,000. I'm pretty sure there's more.

Seth: So, the people who cleared the land, who was that? That was one of the people who thought they bought it and they just went ahead?

Eloy: Yeah.

Seth: Okay. Got you. Kind of going back to what you were saying earlier about how you were just a victim of identity theft, but these other people were bigger victims, I guess, of losing their money. It sounds like there are two sides to it. Like both you as the seller need to be aware that this stuff could happen out there. I've literally never heard of it until a couple of weeks ago, when all of a sudden, I see articles posted about it on Facebook and then you chimed in and you were talking about how you had experience with this. Maybe it's a bigger issue than I thought it was.

Eloy: It is a big issue here in Southwest Florida.

Seth: Yeah. Why do you think that is? What is it about Florida that's making people do that?

Eloy: It's really a hot market and there are lots. There's not that much due diligence on lots compared to obviously a home. They're easily transferable like a very liquid asset. So, I think it's ripe with fraud because they're not going to do as much due diligence on a vacant lot because these voters or buyers are buying them in droves, $15,000 here, $15,000 there and they're building homes. And it's easy.

I think the biggest issue, recording office is in counties, they don't do any due diligence. So, I call the Ricard office, because this is like a different situation. Somebody else recorded it incorrectly and put my legal description for my property. They don't double-check it so they could be two different owners and then they record it. They just see as is and record it.

Seth: Wait, so back up just a second. So, you were saying somebody did try to record the deed for this property?

Eloy: No, this is a different situation.

Seth: Different situation.

Eloy: Yeah. But it comes into your topic. That somebody recorded incorrectly and it was my property and because people are doing so much volume, they're not really checking. So, I had to get a lawyer and fix it.

Seth: But was that just like an honest mistake on their end or were they trying to scam you?

Eloy: It was an honest mistake on their end.

Seth: Okay. Got you.

Eloy: On their end was an honest mistake, but there are scammers. In Cape Coral, this guy, he got, I think, like $300,000 just making fake deeds and recording them. So, it is happening.

Seth: Some of the articles that I saw on this, they didn't do a great job of really explaining what was going on. I don't know if the people writing the article even really understood the issue, but from what I gathered, it sounded like that's what was happening. It wasn't just people collecting $3,000 not doing a deed. It was like people were actually making up fake deeds.

It's kind of mind-blowing when you start to think about how much damage a person could do if they knew how to game the system. I don't know. It's bothering me. I don't know the answer here. I don't know how you really protect yourself from every possible scam that can happen here. Is there some kind of like a notification system you can set up to be aware of?

Eloy: You can, in some counties, especially over here in Southwest Florida, because it's such a problem, you could put like a notification, you put your email or I'm not sure if you could put your phone number, but you could put your email and then if anything changes with the deed, you get a notification automatically, which I think is a really good system to use.

Seth: And you do this at the county level or something? Where do you do this?

Eloy: The county website. Like in Lee County, they have one. I'm not sure if Charlotte County over here in Southwest Florida, if you're familiar with it. Lee County has a lot of volume transactions because a lot of people are moving down here. So, deeds move back and forth, sometimes multiple times within the year because people are just flipping them. So, a lot of people, they don't even do their due diligence, because they only look at the legal description.

Even if it has the wrong address that doesn't match the legal description, they're only going to go off the legal description. Like you said, they only care about the format and legal description, the only two things they care about because they have so much volume to record. I could just imagine how long it'll take them to record it to verify every single notary on there. Especially in areas with high volume, maybe like in Colorado, in the middle of nowhere, that could be done. But also, they are very understaffed and underpaid. I think that's one of the reasons this is such an issue. I wish there could be like a solution to this because I'm in the same boat because I was scared to get lawsuits from other people, even though I wasn't associated with it because I'm signing purchase agreements using my name. And in the state of Florida, you can even get my address too because it's public information.

Seth: Yeah. Even if there was no legal recourse against you, there's still tarnished reputation. Your name is associated with all this fraudulent stuff that you didn't do. Am I right in my thinking that this kind of thing would be much more common on really cheap, low-end properties? Like if somebody's buying a $500,000 piece of land or house or whatever, at that point, it's a no-brainer that first of all, a title company is involved. And I know there's this whole thing about fake title companies, which kind of blows my mind that people would go through that much trouble to do that and do a good job of it. But just trying to think of both from your end and also any buyer out there who might be listening to this, what can everybody do to be smart about this and make sure they're not getting fooled by somebody?

Eloy: Yeah. Those people had a pretty good scam. I'm not going to lie. They made a fake title company. The purchase agreements were on point. Their communication, at least in the beginning was very, very good. They reply. I think you have to verify the owner in step one. And the way I do that is if I have their phone number, I'm going to white pages or truepeoplesearch.com and verifying their phone number matches the person. If they don't match, I'm going to start asking questions. Especially in those lower volume lots, for people who do this for a living, that's not a problem. But people who are buying it to build their home, most people only do like two real estate transactions in their lifetime.

Seth: Like why would they know?

Eloy: Why would they know? They don't have experience.

Seth: Yeah.

Eloy: But if I were a buyer, the tip I would give is to always verify the number with white pages or truepeoplesearch.com. Make sure you use your own title company, even if you pay the closing cost, just to have peace of mind. Because your title company is a very impartial person. They only care about getting the deal through and if it doesn't pass their small test, they're not going to do it because they don't want to get that hit of the title insurance.

So, use a title company that you are comfortable with that you know, even if you have to pay for it. Verify the phone number matches the person on the deed. Make sure the person you're talking to matches the person on the deed. Like in Lee County specifically, you could easily find the person on the deed. They have really good records. You could check the records department. Verify. Let's say that the person says they're John Smith. And then the person on the deed is Nancy Drew. There's a big disconnection right there. You got to figure out why is that. That's the problem.

Seth: I hate to overcomplicate this even further, but even if you were to find a real legitimate notary who did everything right, like I just got these notarized today. And the notary asked for my driver's license to verify that I am who I say I am. What if I had a fake driver's license? There are so many different ways you could screw with this system that is currently in place that we're all relying on for these huge transactions.

I think about like a credit card fraud. It used to be a huge thing, and I'm not an expert on this. I don't know. All I can say is from my experience taking credit card payments for some of the stuff we have sold through REtipster, back when we started doing this in 2015, it was like, man, it seemed like a once a month or once every other month, some kind of payment would get rejected because of credit card fraud or something.
But once these chips became a thing in credit cards, I don't know if that's the reason why fraud has gone down so much, but we almost never get those kinds of rejected payments anymore. And I've heard people talking about how real estate title recording should be going the way of blockchain, because it's a much more… Do you know anything about blockchain, how that works?

Eloy: I don't know much, but I actually thought about that as well. But then the problem is, let's say you have it on something like you have to have like a key or something, taxes. Most people lose their deeds. You have to get another deed from the county recorder. That's the only issue, that if you have to have something physically on you or something that could verify that's yours, if you forget a password or you lose a deed, how can you move the property? That's the only I think drawback from something that I guess blockchain associated with it because I kind of know where you're going. Because I thought about that too. Because after this experience, it's so easy to do fraud here. It's like super easy. There's no really checks or balances at all.

Seth: And I think this system, I guess, I don't know for sure, but the other countries I'm aware of have a similar system where it's really just a piece of paper that you're getting signatures on and people trust it and they record it. And it's just a PDF sitting in some database now. And I've never thought about it, but now that I hear about this, it's like, “Man, if I were really a scammer, there are so many opportunities to exploit this system.” It's really kind of messed up that we're still doing it this way.

Eloy: Yeah. You don't even have to be really charismatic at all. Like I've never even been to a closing before. I've done all my real estate transactions online. So, now it's even easier than ever because back in the day you’d probably only scam your local market, before the internet. And then after you scam your local market, you can get caught real quick. People could be out of state and do this now. And then if the notary is in it, let's say they're a bad actor, it's not that hard to get a notary license. You could get somebody to do it. But they're the ones going to get the heat if something happens.

Seth: Yeah. It's true, though. It takes very little to do that. You just really ask for it. And there is a bond you have to pay for that's supposed to kick in if you ever are sued or something like that. But it's not for like millions. It's like a little bit. Yeah, I agree. There's really not a very ironclad way to keep everybody accountable and make sure fraud doesn't happen. And with this new world we're living in, it seems like in overhaul it’s kind of needed.

Eloy: No, it really is.

Seth: How's that going to happen? I don't know.

Eloy: I don't know how they would do it. I even followed up yesterday just for this podcast, the Florida Department Law Enforcement, to see if there's any like feedback or anything. They haven't really messaged me back. So, it's still a pending case. And it's very scary because like I said before, my name is on those contracts and they're signing them off to all these different people and then they're using different addresses too. They use their random address in Tampa and then in other contracts they use a random address in Miami. Even their wire information has a different address as well. It's supposed to be a business, but their wire information is from a house. So, you just got to verify everything.

Seth: Yeah. Have you talked to any attorneys about just the situation? Did they have any recommendations?

Eloy: It's a very specific case. I called my friend who's an attorney and he didn't even know who to recommend me to because that's very… You're only a victim of fraud, but the other people are the actual victims. I know of at least $6,000 they got scammed. I'm pretty sure there's more. It has to be more because I only got a small percentage of those people.

Seth: Yeah. And you think about it, in this situation, certainly they were the victims, but what if somebody had forwarded your name and got a fake notary signature and deeded your, then you would be the victim. You just got your property stolen from you. And it sounds like that's actually happening with some people. It's not what your situation is, luckily. And that kind of thing, I'm sure that can be cleaned up. It's just a major hassle and people are going to get burned in the process because they're going to realize, “Oh, I bought something that isn't actually mine.” But it'd be interesting to see how a court would handle that.

Eloy: Yeah. I think the only way, like you said, the blockchain, if you make the notary have a special key or situation that when they put their stamp of approval, it's going to go back to them immediately. And I think making the notary process a little bit more difficult or having a little bit more checks and balances is going to help with those deed situations for sure, because it's going to come back to them eventually. It's something you can't fake.

Seth: So, two questions are coming up. Hopefully I'm not going to forget one of them, but with blockchain, we've actually got an article on it, I didn't write the thing, somebody else did. But it really explained, it was the first time I ever really started to grasp how blockchain even works. But I think with that kind of a system, the notary wouldn't even be necessary anymore because the validity of every transaction sets up this permanent record for every single transaction is verified by the agreement of all the other parties involved. And I don't know, I'm not saying it right.

Eloy: It has an audit system, basically. You could see every transaction from beginning to end, but that's the same situation we have now. We have that with recording offices. The problem is recording offices just take anything in.

Seth: Yeah. So, you need some way to verify, like “This is real. Everybody who's agreeing here is the actual people who are doing it.” Which I know I got face recognition on my phone. I got fingerprint recognition. And there's two-factor authorization. There are all kinds of ways that we've found solutions for this that are pretty effective, I think. It's just about applying that to the transferring process somehow.

Eloy: Yeah. No, you're right. Even when I do stuff on TikTok, I use a lot of TikTok to get leads. I double-check those leads more than anything else because the amount of people that come in, especially if you go viral, you have to really check those lots or those pieces of land with even more scrutiny, just because of my past experience. I'm like, I'm not going to get ripped off. I'm going to make sure I don't get ripped off. If I buy a piece of land somewhere else, I'm going to go through a title company that I'm going to choose, for sure.

Seth: Yeah. I'm trying to think of things we can say here that will help people who are hearing this and freaking out to help them not freak out. And maybe a little bit of, I'll say anxiety, but just cautiousness is probably appropriate. Just being aware that this is a thing. But it sounds like, first of all, I don't think this is common. This seems like a huge, devastating thing, and it is because we've got this situation that we know of and we're talking about, but when you look at all the land deals everywhere, I have to believe this is still extremely uncommon that people will go to this length or even know how to do it.

But even when it does happen, it seems like this would be on like maybe the $10,000 and under properties. The ones where buyers actually have cash. And I'm sure any land investor out there knows if you've ever done a self-closing, most buyers have very little sophistication. They don't really understand what a title search is. They just kind of accept the deed, which as long as you're a decent person, that's fine. But it sets up the situation where if a person really wanted to, they could totally mess with people.

Eloy: No, you're right. Because a lot of these properties in Lehigh Acres, at least at the time, were under $15,000. So, most people from my experience have at least $10,000 of liquid cash on them. Buyers, at least. So, if they're selling that for $3,000 and the market value is $15,000. They're like, “Oh, I just got a deal.” I just got to message this person first and then even works against them because now the scammers always say, “You better hurry up and give me the money because I have all these other different buyers.” And then when you go in the Zillow list, you have like a thousand views, all these saves. So, it actually works against the person to do due diligence because they can like, “Oh, I'm going to miss out the deal.” As the old saying goes, “It's too good to be true.” Yeah, that's true. Very true.

In a lot of these situations, I've been noticing that the property's way below market value, way below market value, even though the whole seller wouldn't be able to get these prices and it wouldn't even make sense why anybody would sell it at this price unless they have a problem with it, like a probate or whatever issue might have.

And you're right. It does happen with these small lofts in high-traffic areas. So, if you're in an area like let's say Lehigh Acres, Port Charlotte, Cape Coral, that has a lot of volume in sales, that would be a breeding ground for them. And like you said, you don't think it's happening everywhere. I don't either. I just think the people, the bad actors, are just doing volume because it's easy to do volume. Because you could do volume-selling lots as it is, as a person doing it legitimately. If you're doing it illegitimately and selling to multiple different people, it is very easy to do.

Seth: Yeah. Yeah. If any potential buyer out there is listening to this, it sounds like you've already covered a handful of really good things to watch out for, like if it's priced way too low, it just looks too good to be true, then it could very well be. I wonder if there are certain steps, they could go through to verify the identity of the person selling. Like make sure you meet them in person, make sure you see their driver's license. And even that is not perfect, but it's an extra hoop that they would have to jump through to really bend over backward, to lie to you.

Eloy: The biggest takeaway is to check their number on white pages or something or familynow.com. It's like for ancestry where you could find people on there and it has pretty good phone numbers on there. They're pretty accurate. So white pages, True People Search or familynow.com to verify the phone number you're texting is legitimate. Check the age. If it's on Facebook, check the age of the Facebook profile.

Seth: Oh, yeah. That's a good one.

Eloy: Yeah. If it's too young, obviously if it's less than a year, red flag. Get your own title company to buy a property. I don't do self-closings anymore. I used to, but make sure you have your own title company that you already vetted before. So, like a fake one, like these people, unfortunately. It was very professional. I could see why people fell for it. It's extremely professional. The way they talk to you. They already knew every question that you would ask them. So, you're going to make sure you have a legitimate title company. Even if you have to pay for it, if it's a small deal or a small amount, it's worth it. Just for peace of mind. And then if anything pops up, the title company is going to tell you. And most times they don't charge you if it's a red flag.

So, verify the person, use white pages to verify the number, match it up. Match it up with the deed, match up the person they tell you with the deed. And most recording offices let you look at the deeds, at least for properties. And if there's a seller on my end, put a sign on the property, always put a sign and put it on Zillow, salebyowner.com, all these different websites to make sure you don't get scammed. And I think it's more applicable to high-volume areas if you buy and sell them.

Seth: Yeah. And as a seller, if you were to just say, “Well, I'm only going to go after properties that are going to sell for, I don't know, $30,000 or higher,” do you think you'd probably get a lot less of this? Like even the chance of it happening or could it still just happen?

Eloy: Probably way less. It has to be because all these people are getting very unsophisticated investors. The person who contacted me the first time who went through all those hoops to find my number, very sophisticated investor, he knew what he was doing. Because I don't know how he got my number. It was even my number that I used to sell property. It was always the number I used to buy properties. He got it somehow. He got in contact with me and he made me aware of the situation. These scammers do it to people who have very little money, very unsophisticated, only do one or two real estate transactions a year or in their life. And it was very easy when you don't have any experience to get scammed. It's not the people’s fault either.

Seth: Yeah. It sounds like the perfect scam, honestly. Yeah.

Eloy: There's one in American Greed that they were doing something similar, on Central Florida in the '90s. They were just making fake deeds and selling properties. And back then it must have been super easy.

Seth: I've heard stories of this happening in other countries. It's just commonplace. To the point that it's risky to own property there at all. Because you just never know when is your property going to get sold out from under you? Or when is the government going to just take it over? It's just crazy what can happen. And that's one of the reasons why a lot of people want to own land in the U.S. is because we've got a government and law system that really respects property rights and that kind of thing. But this seems like it undermines that when this kind of stuff can happen so easily. It would be interesting to talk to, I don't know, how many attorneys out there have dealt with cases like this of a fraudulent deed that was made and transferred. Like what now? What does that property owner do to get that property back?

Eloy: You have to do a quiet title. I'm not a legal professional at all. Because somebody, unfortunately, I don't know why, but they made a wrong legal description. And I was an owner now, even though I never bought it, somebody else was supposed to buy it, but they put a legal description of a property I own. It was like a big mix up. But basically, they were going to do quiet title to resolve that. But I just signed it off to them. It's not my property. So, whatever deed I had to sign, I just signed it off on them. But if I didn't want to do that, they would do quiet title for a property under like $15,000. At least this lawyer was going to charge $5,000 for that quiet title. But I just gave it to them. Quiet title in the state of Florida. And I'm also not a legal professional, I'm just giving my experience of what happened when somebody made an incorrect deed.

Seth: Yeah. I know the quiet title. That's generally the remedy for a lot of different things. Not just this, but there's some cloud from back when or a tax deed sale or something like that. I believe you have to do an individual one for each individual issue. It's not like one can fix all problems. But I keep thinking about the person who thought they bought the property, and honestly, they had every reason to believe it because everything was there. The deed was right. The signature was there. Notary was there. Is it really their fault? Where's their recourse?

Eloy: No, I do feel bad for those people because even if they do buy and if they're not the first person on the title history, it puts a cloud on title regardless. So, they say they did buy it and they can't really do anything with the land now because there's a cloud on title. So, it's very unfortunate for people who buy land that's been scammed. Like I said before, like on my TikTok, I get leads in and those, I make sure the person is the right person because I think I got a couple of scamming people on there before already.

Now, with my experience, I could tell them right away. Their name doesn't even line up with the deed on the property, the name they're giving me. And it's a very small property in the middle of nowhere. Like one of them in Arkansas, I don't know if he was a scammer, but everything showed red flags. The number she gave me, I think it was a Google Voice number. It's a very small lot in the middle of nowhere. Her name wasn't even on the deed. She was giving all these weird excuses. I'm like, I'm out. I'm just not going to contact this person again.

Seth: Yeah. If you really understand, and I guess it's a good reason to understand how to do a title search and just understand the mechanics of. And I'm this way too, for the most part. If I ever have a chance, everything is going through a title company. Not only because they're going to do a better job and they're on the hook to verify everything. But they save me a ton of time. They don't have to do this stuff anyway. But even so, there is some benefit to actually going through the process and learning how to do a title search yourself, just to understand, why is it a problem? Why do the dots need to connect and how do you spot issues here and there? Because like we talked earlier, most buyers understandably have no idea because they have no reason to understand it. It's confusing and they do it once or twice in their life. So, it's just way easier to just fork over money and trust the person. Especially if they have a great website and they sound good.

Eloy: I would even add to that and say that if you do a title search, you could find out if a property is worth it or not. For example, if you never did a title search, you're not going to figure out that, oh, this property might need a probate because the person who signed the agreement is not this person on the deed. Let's say they have the last name. Like, okay, let me go ask them if that's their mother who passed away or the father who passed away.

And then if you did title searches on your own, you could figure out a problem before you could get into them. For example, in that example, they really can't sign it off. So, the thing that's been happening a lot in the state of Florida, a lot of sellers are backing out. Because if you get so many offers, the sellers back out. But if they signed their name and the property is owned by their mother, they never did probate. They don't actually have legal recourse to sell the property at all. Their contract is not even valid. As soon as they get a better offer, they just go with another person, even though you pay for the probate.

Seth: Oh, got you. Yeah.

Eloy: So, they could just go around like, “Oh, that contract wasn't valid. I'm just going to go with somebody else after you pay for the probate and did all the work.”

Seth: Yeah. If there's earnest money on the line, does that change anything in terms of like, “No, you have to stick with her now because I paid you money and now it's ironclad?”

Eloy: I don't think a title club would take it because that’s not a real contract because they don't own the property. We have to go through either semi-administration or probate to release the property to heirs.

Seth: Yeah. It's true. That's a good point.

Eloy: Yeah. That's a good thing to know if you do with self-closings, you'll get those experiences that you probably wouldn't know about because the title company is going to tell you about them and you never really worked them out yourself.

Seth: Yeah. Man, what a mess. I feel like this is an area that is going to evolve and improve in the future because it has to. And I don't know, this will be something just to pay attention to not only from a buyer and a seller's perspective of just being aware how you can get taken advantage of, but also, I'm curious to see what safeguards will develop in the future. Maybe this whole notification system should probably be like a standard normal thing. I don't know why you wouldn't, and maybe it is, I haven't really looked into it much.

Eloy: I think it is because the arbitrage between these recording offices are analog. These guys are like 20, 30 years in the future already. So, these systems aren't, unless you're in a county with a lot of volume that they give those services, I think those services should be standard automatically, if anything on the title changes, you do get notification. And if your email changes, you got to update your email. I think they should as soon as recording, to get your email to automatically give those updates to opt in. Obviously, if you want to opt out from those emails, I don't know why anybody would or it'll give you access to opt out, opt in. I think they should automatically opt you in to make sure your property doesn't get sold by some person using my name or something.

Seth: Yeah. Basically, whatever credit card companies are doing and banks to protect their own people from fraud and stuff. I don't know, maybe there are some notes the real estate world can take from that. Like, “Hey, whatever they're doing, figure that out and do that over here because it's working for them.”

Eloy: I think it's also been on the county too, how much the county has. If you're in a really rural county, like in Tennessee or something, it barely doesn't even have a courthouse. I remember this one guy telling me, "We don't even have a courthouse. We just have a computer in a room that records everything. And that computer, if it goes out, now everybody's screwed."

So, I think it's going to get more rampant in the rural states that only got like one person doing all the recordings for the entire. So, if that little rural county gets more people to move in, it's going to be rampant. It's happening more here, I think, because of that same situation. The market started going hot. All these people from New York are buying properties. A lot of scammers from Miami saw a really good opportunity.

Seth: Yeah. Not that my ideas matter at all, but just thinking out loud, trying to ideate and think of ways. When I think of a notary, a lot of times that notary stamp, that's important for some reason, that means something or just putting their name and their expiration date of their notary bond or whatever that is. I wonder if we could replace that with maybe, instead of just like a stamp with their name on it, it's like a QR code or like a barcode or maybe like a device that creates a new unique QR code for every single thing they do. And it's only linked to that one person who has this. I don't know.

Eloy: No, that's actually a really good idea. It's kind of what I was talking about earlier. Something that basically verifies that this notary actually met with this person and this is going to be tied to them.

Seth: Yeah. Like no other person is capable of generating this barcode. So, we know it's this person because they had to sign into two places to do… I don't know.

Eloy: Just to piggyback off that point. A lot of notarizations are happening online. So that's another thing that these scammers, if you could do it online, these scammers are going to have a field day because you could just make fake IDs because, basically, I've done online notarization before. You just take a picture of your ID. You send it to them. You get another picture, like two forms of identification. You got to be a U.S. citizen. Yeah. That's easy to do with a scammer who's experienced doing other stuff.

Seth: Well, I know there is… I haven't used it myself, but there's like notary cam, if that's still even around. I think what you got to do is get on a Zoom call. So, they're like seeing you. And yeah, I'm sure you're right, though. There's even like deepfake technology now where I can make my face look like Tom Cruise if I want to. I wouldn't have to change much because I'm already that handsome, but somebody like me could do that and get away with being Tom Cruise or whoever you want to be.

Eloy: Yeah. That's another thing like those deepfake things, they're not even that expensive anymore. I see on Zoom they're doing deepfakes of people. You're actually the person, you just give them a prompt, a couple of words you say, and they'll get automatically talk like you. And it doesn't even matter if you need to talk to them. You just got to look like them. You can make a fake ID, do a deepfake.

And what I've noticed when I'm doing a lot of online notaries is the picture quality is horrible. Even if you do a deepfake, they're not going to be able to tell. This whole thing has been, I remember when it was happening to me, I was stressing out. Every single day there was another person calling me. I'm like, “Oh, these guys are really good marketers. They're really killing it because I'm over here stressed out.”

Seth: Yeah. Well, it's totally not your fault. It's not right that you have to get stressed out about this. But if this happened to me, I'm one who's super concerned about my reputation and what people think about me. If I saw that somebody was dragging my name through the mud, like hurting people badly using my name like that, that would deeply trouble me. And especially when it's like, what do you do? How do you stop these people? They're just running rampant, like dragging your name through the mud. And that would really bother me. So, I'm sorry you had to go through that.

Eloy: Yeah. That's actually kind of one of my concerns. I'm like, man, these people go to the Better Business Bureau, I'm done. I just started my company. I just barely even got the letter because my business has been longer than three years old. And I just made my reputation here in this little area with all these different title companies. And if my name gets run through the mud and put me in the news or something, even if I do try to sell legitimately and have a good name, it still hurts you. It still hurts you.

Seth: Yeah. Well, I appreciate your willingness to share what happened and how this all came about. You've mentioned TikTok a few times. So, how is it that you use TikTok in your land business?

Eloy: Yeah. I actually started doing it because I saw other people in the land business do it. Basically, you had to be very consistent in making content. At first, I did it to sell land, but I was selling little vacant lots, and nobody wants to buy vacant. Everybody wants to buy nice 100 acres or whatever.

I was doing it and I started making content, making very short content within 15 seconds of three things you need to know before you buy your vacant land. Make sure it's not in a flood zone. Make sure clear there is a chain of title or very simple thing that the average consumer wouldn't know, stuff like that. Make sure to know endangered animals like here in Tallahassee, Florida. So, I'll just make little bite-sized pieces and sometimes I'll go viral. So, I'm like, you know what? If I'm going viral, I just put my website at the very end of every TikTok.

I'll give 80% content, 20% advertisement. I'll give the three things they say to look out before you buy a piece of land. And I'll say in the very end, if you want to buy land, go to my website here. And then it was working for a bit. I was getting a whole bunch of views on my selling website. On the reverse, I'm like, “You know what? I could do this for my buying website, because I'm just going to get all this traffic for free, and why not use it for there?” Because actually I could sell land easy now. Selling land is not that hard. I'll just get a realtor. The hard part is getting acquisitions, especially in this kind of market.

I have a buying site and I just basically did the same thing because in TikTok, every video is new to a person. Even though they follow you, because it goes to a 4U page, it's very different algorithm than Instagram. Because if you do two different websites on Instagram, your consumers, your brand is going to be like, “Wait, it's kind of weird that you have two different websites.” But for mine, for TikTok, every video has its own life. It's not really connected to your profile. It'll push it out to similar people that like that kind of stuff in your profile. But not necessarily, if you look at the analytics only like 1% of the people who watch your videos are actually followers. 99% are random people you don't even know. They had never even followed you or never even seen your stuff.

So, I started pushing out that same content, but for my buying website and I've been seeing pretty good results. I went viral, like a month ago, I got like 650,000 views. I got 51 leads from that. And you had to go through my website and fill out a form and everything. And I got 50 leads from that. Not all of them are good, but I bought one of them out of all those.

Seth: There's nothing special about this video, right? Just one of many you made and for some reason it went viral. Do you know why it went viral?

Eloy: I think because I'm providing content that people like argue about. I think it was the top areas that have no income tax, something like that. States that have no income tax you should buy land in. I should have said property tax because more people care about that. And all these people start arguing like, “No, no don't come to Texas. We have really high property taxes" or “Don't come to this state because we have too many people.” But people started arguing and then it became viral.

Seth: I got you. Because of all the comments and stuff.

Eloy: Yeah. It's kind of similar to Facebook, Instagram. The more people comment or respond, it gets more engagement and the longer people stay on it. And TikTok is like YouTube, but with YouTube you have to have at least 10 minutes and then it'll work for you. But in TikTok, let's say you have a 15-second video, they want your user to at least watch 90% of it. And then they'll push out to more people.

So, I kind of figured out their algorithm and I liked it that anything can become viral. On Instagram and Facebook, they don't want your stuff to become viral because you're going to be competing with their ads. The perfect analogy was like, if Beyonce has 100 million viewers and she posts something in, all 100 million viewers people could see it. What's the point of going through Facebook to buy ads? You could just go to a Beyonce and put somebody else.

On TikTok, it's exact like that. If somebody makes a content and they're famous and could push it out, all one million people are going to see it. So, I think TikTok is the better one to market towards. It's the fastest-growing social media. I got on early when it was easier to get viral. Now it's a little bit more difficult. They're making it more and more difficult because obviously they're trying to push their ads now. And if your content and your viewers compete with their ads, they're going to throttle you for sure.

And they're also the most strict in terms of what you could say, what you could do and all that, but I've been getting pretty good results. I bought one piece of land from TikTok. I got like 25,000 followers, which is not that much, but the followers don't really matter. It's the kind of content you provide. Something with really good hooks and something that keeps your audience either entertained or informed.

Seth: Interesting. So, you have two different handles, one for buying and one for selling or they're both all in one?

Eloy: No, it's in the same handle.

Seth: Okay. What's your handle? If people want to check it out, how do they do that?

Eloy: Oh, thelandpoint.com. I just literally made it my website. When people go on there, if you look at my profile, they see my website name. They just automatically go to my website because if you put a website now, it wasn't this the case before. But if you put a website in your TikTok, like the actual website, they throw you because you're taking them away from TikTok. So, I just put my handle, my TikTok name, my URL from my selling site to make it easier for more people to go there.

Seth: You put it in the video itself?

Eloy: No, I put it in my actual handle. My handle is thelandpoint.com.

Seth: Oh, got you. I got you. I follow now. Okay. That's a good idea.

Eloy: Because they're going to throttle me for posting on the video. They're going to go to my video, watch similar videos and then they also throttle it if you say click the link in the bio, they don't push it out as more because they know they're going to take them away from TikTok. So, I just put it in the handle. It makes it easier for everybody.

Seth: Is it more effective for you to try to find buyers or sellers?

Eloy: Oh, buyers for sure. It's not even close because there are so many more buyers than sellers. The thing I do is I send them to let's say my buying website. If you want to buy land, go to landpoint.com. They all go to landpoint.com. And then as soon as there, I think the good idea I have that I did early is I put a popup. So, before you go into my website, you have to put your email. I got so many buyer emails. I got like 5,000 buyer emails from that. Not all of them are good.

Seth: That's a lot, though. Holy cow.

Eloy: Yeah. Just from doing that. But not all of them are going to be good, but then I ask follow-up questions. Are you going to buy financing or pay cash? What state you want to buy in? Because now I have all these people who are cash buyers. And I also ask the budget. So, let's say I have a property in Georgia and a person's budget is within my budget. And let's say I don't want to do on finances and I go on cash. I could just filter the people and send those people emails instead of all my entire group. I got like 5,000 roughly around from TikTok alone.

Seth: In terms of the amount of leads you get from both sides, is it to the point where it can replace direct mail or not really?

Eloy: Not really, not right now. And that's the other thing. Direct mail is very passive. This is going to be very active. I think it replaces it if you're really good at it, Google ads, for sure, or Facebook ads. I don't know, I think Google ads are still worth it, but Facebook ads, for sure it could replace it. Because Facebook ads, they throw them, even if you pay for it, you have to have enough of an algorithm.

But the cool thing about getting free emails of people who want to buy land, these people give your emails that are most likely going to be connected to their Facebook profile. So, it can make lookalike audiences based off the email that you got based on the states they tell you. Let's say you have like the same example. Let's say you have a property in Georgia you want to sell. You send them an email, but then make a lookalike audience of all the catch fires in that state. Because a lot of people spend a lot of money just to get enough data to make an audience to put out. I already have the audience. I have all these people who want to buy cash. I could just put it on Facebook if I wanted to do that and make a lookalike audience and do Facebook ads.

Seth: Got you. Do the videos that you make on TikTok, are those evergreens in nature or you have to constantly making more videos all the time or people are going to never see you again?

Eloy: You have to be consistent. If you're not consistent on TikTok, but the thing is because I live in the country, I literally just go outside and say top three websites to buy land or three things you need to look out for buying land. At this point, I'm a little bit more seasoned. It takes me literally 15 minutes to make a video. Not all of them are going to go viral, but if they're over 5,000 viewers, I'm happy. If they're not, I got to adjust my content. But I just go outside, it takes me 15 minutes to edit it, do all the little things I need to do with it. But it's not that difficult. It's kind of like brushing your teeth almost at this point.

Seth: And this can all be done just on your phone, right? You don't even need a computer.

Eloy: Yeah, you could do on a computer if you want to make better content, longer form content, you could do it, but you have to have a hook. You have to catch people. I think if you're starting out, you want to make short-form content. Build some type of audience, or TikTok, at least make an algorithm to make your audience. And then you can start going longer and longer to make long-form content. At first you definitely want to start within 15 seconds and make something engaging with a hook in the very beginning to get at least the following. So, TikTok could figure out what kind of users are going to like your kind of stuff.

Seth: Those videos can be up to three minutes long, is that right?

Eloy: Up to 10 minutes long if you have like… I think it's 10. Don't quote me, but I think it's 10. But to be honest, you should never do a 10-minute video. Because most people on TikTok, I've seen it happen to me too because I watch a lot of videos to see any new trends and most people tend to spend less than 30 seconds. I think TikTok if you know how to make consistent content about land, which is very difficult, it could be worth it for sure. Because I'm running out of content to make for land, I'm kind of going to other real estate aspects now. I'm also home study stuff as well, which is kind of a similar audience.

Seth: Yeah. Along the same band.

Eloy: Yeah. I kind of discuss home study stuff because then they'll go to my profile to look at the stuff I'm talking about homesteads, but then they see I sell land, which is kind of like very symbiotic customer basis.

Seth: Yeah. Interesting. Cool. Tell me you're going to do a 15-second video promoting this podcast episode when it goes live. You're going to do that, right?

Eloy: Oh, for sure. For sure. I'll definitely put it. I don't have a YouTube. I'll put your YouTube on mine. I don't really care.

Seth: Sweet, man. I appreciate it. I guess to kind of wrap this up. We covered some TikTok stuff, which I wasn't even really expecting to go into, but you just gave us some really valuable insight on that. So, thanks. But just circling back to the whole fraud situation. I guess I don't want people to worry. I don't want people to have anxiety attacks and lose sleep over “My property is going to get stolen from under me. I'm going to get my name trashed by some scammer.”

But the reality is this can happen. This is a real thing in this fallen world that we live in. And what I want people to take away from this is just be aware of what's going on out there and what can happen. It doesn't mean you have to constantly monitor everything, but if your county lets you set up notifications, do it. Make sure that you're aware what's going on.

If you're dealing with a property that's sort of lower end in nature, just a cheaper property, just know that if there was ever a target property for that, that's kind of what they would most likely go for as opposed to like a $100,000 property or something like that.

And on the end of buyers, just the same kind of thing. Be aware that this kind of stuff can happen. Verify the identity of the person selling and use a title company that you choose. And if it looks too good to be true, it probably is too going to be true. That doesn't mean that everybody is out there to scam it because they're totally not. In fact, the vast majority of people are not, but knowing that there are thieves out there, I mean, that's why we have locks on our doors. Use what you can to protect yourself and be careful. So, do you have another input to share on that whole situation?

Eloy: Yeah. Just to give a little bit more color, low -alue properties in hot areas for sure. And always be wary of sell by owners on Zillow. You have to be wary of them. Like I said before, use white pages or check the number to match the person and check the deed, the person's name. If they're not a very sophisticated scammer, they might not even change the name of the deed. They could see I'm John Smith, but then Nancy Drew was on the deed. So, I think if you just do your due diligence, if you have $10,000 to spend on a piece of property, you don't want to lose that. There are a lot of people savings right there. Make sure you do your due diligence. Just don't go in head first in shallow water.

But yeah, thank you, by the way. I always enjoyed your content. I just wanted to tell you before you go, you're the person who got me into land, honestly.

Seth: Oh, really? Cool.

Eloy: Yeah. Because I remember I was working a 9:00 to 5:00 and I was like, every lunch instead of eating lunch, I would eat like a quick lunch and read a BiggerPockets. And then I saw your podcast with BiggerPockets a long time ago. I did finance. I'm like, yeah, land is so much better. I don't know why people don't do it. The money makes sense and you don't have to deal with as many people.

Seth: Yeah, totally. That's awesome, man. It's great to hear. Thanks for letting me know that. It's really encouraging.

Eloy: Yeah. Thank you.

Seth: Sounds like you're getting pretty far.

Eloy: Yeah.

Seth: Nice job. Cool. Well, thanks again, Eloy. And again, it's landpoint.com, right?

Eloy: Yeah. That's my selling site. But if you really want to know how to do the buying site, I do at landforcashmoney.com. That's my buying site and the way I do it there, it's almost the same as my selling site, but it's a lot more straightforward. Basically, you don't have to go do many things. They just basically go in, submit the property. They're done. The more touchpoints people have to go through, the less likely they're going to actually get people who want to sell the property. You want to make it easy as possible for those kinds of people.

Seth: Got you. Thanks for sharing that as well. Sounds like you got some good stuff figured out there.

Eloy: Thank you. I appreciate it.

Seth: So, there you go. That was my conversation with Eloy. And as I alluded to, at the very beginning of this episode, there was actually an arrest made in connection with this incident that Eloy had to go through. Apparently, this scammer had created a bunch of fake purchase agreements and used a DocuSign like-system to send these purchase agreements to potential victims.

And something that I thought was obvious, but apparently, this scammer didn't know it, systems like DocuSign or PandaDoc or something similar, the whole reason this software can be used to get legally binding electronic signatures is because they track the IP address and the geolocation of everybody who signs documents through their system. It's part of the security that makes these signatures legally binding because they can actually verify that the right person did actually sign the document and where they were when they did it.

And I'm definitely not an expert on this, but as I just look at the way this case played out and the way that notary signatures currently work, it almost seems like these electronic signature services might be more secure than a notary signature because they can actually track locations and timestamps and all this stuff. But anyway, that's just a side note.
Apparently, this scammer was a 20-year-old female and she had duped 45 people involving over 20 properties in six different Southwest Florida counties. So, it sounds like this person was apparently very smart and this was a pretty widespread thing. She basically tricked the victims into paying over $300,000 for housing that they never received. So, it doesn't sound like this was all just with land. Eloy's property just happened to get caught up in this whole scam.

She impersonated owners, created fake title companies and websites and unique email addresses and acted as the closing agent to get the money from the victims. And she effectively did a really good job at making these sales look real. And she's currently facing charges of scheming to defraud money laundering and aggravated white-collar crime along with communications fraud. And she's currently in jail as of the date of this recording.

Eloy told me that the estimated damage was around $300,000, similar to what the local news reported there, but it could be up to $500,000 by the time everything is accounted for. And I guess that's still in the process of being done. There's actually a local news station that covered all the stuff, which I can link to in this show notes at retipster.com/134. If you want to check it out, there's a short video, just kind of explaining some of the basics that I just covered here.

And as we mentioned in the interview, it sounds like there are at least a few different versions of this kind of scam. In some cases, people are making up fake quick claim deeds and recording them, which I'm sure really makes a mess because then it screws up the chain of title and you probably have to do some kind of court action to undo it. And whoever the victim buyer is, obviously it takes a huge hit in that process. And in other cases, like in Eloy's deal, they don't record deeds at all. They just collect money under the guise of a fake title company.

And I know we kind of covered this in the interview, but just to wrap this up, what are some things you can do about this? How can you protect yourself? What are some of the red flags you can watch out for if you're ever concerned about this happening to you? Well, again, this is a kind of review, but I'll just hit these bullet points again.

First of all, if the county that your properties are located in has any kind of notification system that you can sign up for and get emailed or texted whenever something happens to the title of your property, sign up for it.
And I actually learned, apparently there's services out there, like one in particular is called Home Title Lock, which can protect you from title fraud. And I have no first-hand experience with this particular service or anything like it, but it's probably worth investigating if you have reason to be concerned about this. From what I can tell, it's basically designed precisely for this kind of situation, to protect a property owner in that kind of scenario.

And also use a digital signature service like DocuSign or PandaDoc for all legal signatures, like for example, a purchase agreement when you get things started with a new buyer or seller. This is precisely what caught the scammer in Eloy's story when Eloy actually provided this information to the police, and that was part of what they used to catch this person.

Even if nothing else is done right, this kind of tracking mechanism could be kind of like your last line of defense, just in terms of figuring out who is this other person and where are they, if they're not who they say they are. I'm not sure they would necessarily tell you who they are, but it would at least track where they were when they signed the thing.

And also, by the way, we do have affiliate links to a lot of these tools that I'm mentioning here. If you're not already using them and you want to support REtipster when you sign up, you can find those affiliate links in the show notes, again, retipster.com/134.

And assuming you're using a title company when you buy or sell a property, like Eloy mentioned, make sure you are the person who chooses that title company. Don't just use whatever title company is suggested to you by the other party.

It's usually going to be pretty rare that somebody else is going to insist on you using a particular title company, because they all kind of do the same thing. It doesn't really matter as long as they're somewhat competent and move the process along. So, in a lot of cases, I don't think you're going to find a strong preference on this. It's just an easy opportunity for you to make sure it's going through the title company that you know and trust.

And if you're communicating with somebody on Facebook, say if that's the first way that you're connecting with them, you could check and see if the age of that Facebook profile is under a year old. If it is, it might be kind of a red flag. It doesn't automatically mean that they're a scammer or have ill intent, but it’s just one of the many things you could look out for.
And if you are a land flipper and your intent is to resell that property as soon as possible, you might as well get your property listed immediately and just claim that space for that particular property or parcel number or address.

And most of all, just be aware that this kind of thing can happen. And if you do catch wind of some weird thing going on with the properties in the market where you're working, don't just brush it off and assume it's nothing. Look into it and make sure nobody is trying to pull a fast one on you.

As far as I can tell, this shouldn't really impact the average land flipper's acquisition process because a lot of these scammers seem to be getting involved by inserting themselves as a fake owner, and then trying to find buyers and sell to them. Whereas when the average land flipper is contacting people in search of motivated sellers to buy their land, we're doing it in a way that's essentially unsolicited. Like if they're not asking for us to reach out to them, we are reaching out to them, sort of unprovoked in most cases. So, in most cases, these kinds of motivated sellers would have no reason to lie about who they are in the first place.

Anyway, I hope you guys found this at least somewhat informative. Hopefully, you can walk away from this being smarter and more astute about the things going on out there. Hopefully, these systems that a lot of counties throughout the U.S. are using to record documents and get signatures, which is frankly just a really old antiquated system. Hopefully, this will continue to evolve and we'll get a lot better technology going here, stuff that is a lot less prone to these kinds of scam attacks, which again are not common, but they can happen.

I'm hopeful we're going to see some of that in the years ahead, although honestly, I'm not super optimistic about how fast that's going to happen, just given how most counties and governments work in the first place.

But if this kind of scam activity continues to happen in any shape or form, I'm hopeful that that will kind of just sound some alarm bells and get people to realize, “Hey, something's got to be done. Something needs to change about how we handle this process.” But in the meantime, I just want to make sure everybody out there is aware of this kind of thing and I hope it never happens to you, but if it ever does, now you'll be a little bit smarter about how to identify those things and what to do about it.

So, thanks again for listening. Again, the show notes are at retipster.com/134. And I'll talk to you again in the next episode.

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About the author

Seth Williams is the Founder of REtipster.com - an online community that offers real-world guidance for real estate investors.

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