Beware the long con

A con attempt made during two of our members’ recent deal underscores the importance of listening to your instincts when you feel something is wrong, and how developing a strong rapport with your clients helps you protect their best interests in more ways than you could imagine.

We’ve all heard about the simple cons, like an out-of-the-blue request for funds or the promise of millions if you would only send the far-away refugee a few thousand dollars to escape an oppressive regime.

But could you as easily spot something more complex?

Here’s how a recent long con played out, involving Fraser Valley REALTORS® and an active deal.

Phase 1

Somehow, the con artist discovers the details of an active deal – the Realtors who are involved, the address for the property and the names of the clients.

No one is sure exactly how this happens, but this insider information is key to the scam. It’s possible that an email account was hacked, but more likely, the con artist had access to the MLS® and/or WEBForms®.

TIP: When the Board nags about not sharing passwords and staying on top of identity sharing privileges with assistants, this is why. Details about your clients and your business dealings are extremely valuable. Don’t let them fall into the wrong hands. Don’t share your passwords and if you have in the past, now’s a great time to update them. 

Phase 2

The con artist sets up a fake email account pretending to be the listing agent that includes that Realtor’s name and replicates the look of their existing email account.

Phase 3

The con artist uses the fake email account created for the listing agent to contact the buyer’s agent and request an email address belonging to their client, the potential buyer, as required by the seller and the seller’s lawyer.

This is where the buyer’s agent becomes suspicious, as this is not usual practice. However, since the email itself appears convincing, the email account looks legitimate and the sender has the relevant names and details about the property, the agent forwards the email address of their buyer.

TIP: It’s fast and easy to deal through email or text messages. However, when you’re suspicious about a request, pick up the phone and call to verbally confirm.

Phase 4

Once the con artist has the buyer’s email address, they then create a fake email account for the buyer’s agent and once again, that email account includes the Realtor’s name and appears to be legitimate.

Phase 5

The con artist contacts the buyers, posing as their agent (even including the Realtor’s logo in the signature) and asks the buyer to do a wire transfer for the closing funds. Attached are instructions for the wire transfer, including a bank account number and name, with a franchise logo.

This is where the buyer becomes suspicious. The email from the fake agent is not as personable as the usual emails they usually receive. They attempt to confirm via email, but the fake agent replies that all was well. The buyer is still suspicious and picks up the phone to call their agent.


The money is never transferred, so the con fails. However, it’s easy to imagine how this could have gone much differently, especially where there may be issues with language or when someone may be new to buying real estate.

This story ends well for the client at risk and the Realtors involved, as no one is out of pocket. Still, it’s alarming the level of effort that went into building this ruse.

Some take-aways:

  1. Be sure to protect your passwords and any access to information about your business dealings.
  2. If you are not sure about an email, pick up the phone and talk to the sender to get confirmation and clarification.
  3. Help your clients protect themselves by thoroughly explaining the real estate process to them, so that they’ll notice if something suspicious is occurring.
  4. Develop a strong rapport with clients, so that they’re more likely to recognize when a communication is not from you.
  5. Email scams are abound, so it’s a good idea to be cautious with all emails all the time. Be wary of opening attachments that you are not expecting or providing private information.