INDIANAPOLIS — Attorney General Todd Rokita is sounding the alarm about a new trend in real estate scams — using cryptocurrency.
"With cryptocurrency, there's still a lot of unknowns for the general public, and it can be really confusing. That can be really fertile ground for scammers to take advantage," Jennifer Adamany, communications manager for the Better Business Bureau serving Central Indiana (BBB), said.
Real estate scams are common. Bad actors will post fake ads for properties they don't own or don't exist. They'll ask for money for move-in costs or inspections.
Real estate agent Jordan Moody, with Moody & Company with Keller Williams, has seen victims start to move in, thinking they signed a lease.
"I've shown up to showings before where the house is actively listed for sale, and someone has moved half their belongings into the home and they're sitting there re-keying the front door lock," Moody said.
Rokita warns that scammers are increasingly asking for payments in cryptocurrency, a type of online money independent of governments.
"They like the forms of money that are hard to retrieve the money to get it back, or to trace who you're sending it to," Adamany said.
Crypto may be confusing for many Americans, but it's not difficult to access. Thousands of crypto ATMs are popping up across the country, likely at a gas station near you.
"They'll likely say, go to your local gas station, and here is a QR code, and here's how you send money through that ATM, and the money's gone," Adamany said.
Crypto can be difficult to trace, and the funds can be impossible to recover, but there are ways to protect yourself. Never send crypto to someone you don't know, especially not for real estate.
"In Indiana, we have the Good Funds Law, and cryptocurrency is not money that can be used to buy real estate in Indiana," Moody said.
Adamany said if someone is asking you to send money without seeing the property, or of the deal is too good to be true, check it out.
"Search online for similar properties. Do a quick search for the scammer's email address or phone number. If the same ad pops up in other cities, that's a huge red flag," she said.
Rokita's office identified two specific scams:
- In one scam, a fraudster copies a description of a local property that was recently listed for rent on a legitimate website to create a false real estate listing. The fraudster then engages with consumers and requests a security deposit and/or first month’s rent to be paid to them in Bitcoin using a Bitcoin ATM. Once the money has been exchanged, the scammer either avoids contact with the consumer or seeks additional funds from them.
- In another scam, the fraudster targets would-be real estate investors while posing as a legitimate Indiana-based business. The fraudster may even provide false identity documents in an effort to depict a readiness to provide capital for real estate investments. The scammer oftenr equests significant sums of money in Bitcoin or a similar cryptocurrency to close transactions. If successful in bilking victims of initial payments, the fraudster will often seek additional sums from the victim by claiming that more money is needed to close.
Rokita's office is also issuing a set of tips to avoid falling prey to these types of scams.
- Exercise caution. If it sounds too good to be true it probably is.
- Be wary of social media advertisements for real estate listings.
- Only send cryptocurrency to trusted third parties. Search for publicly verifiable reviews orarticles involving the recipient.
- Watch for grammatical errors and spelling mistakes in communications or on websites. Many scammers operate scams from overseas while pretending to be based in the United States.