Scammers attempt to steal residential properties

Police and property officials say elaborate scams using fake passports and deceptive online techniques have been used in attempts to sell property without the owners knowing — including a case in Oak Bay that was only thwarted by a curious neighbour and another where a con artist got the title.

Oak Bay police said a property in the 2100 block of Bartlett Drive was listed for sale without the consent of the legal owner and was being shown to prospective buyers before the scam was discovered.

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Police said the fraudster contacted the property company managing the home via email posing as its owner and saying they had changed their email and provided a new phone number.

The fraudster signed the email in the name of the real property owner, but didn’t provide proof of identification, then later contacted the management company and requested a property valuation, and was referred to a real estate agent.

The real estate agent completed a valuation and the fraudster requested by email that the house be listed for sale, police said. A fraudulent passport and health card in the name of the property owner was provided and the house was listed and there were showings to potential buyers.

Police said the real estate agent explained to the fraudster, via email, that arrangements would have to be made with a Canadian lawyer before any offers to purchase could be considered.

In early March, a neighbour noticed the for-sale sign and contacted the real owner of the residence, who reported the fraud to police.

“There was very limited suspect information to work with given that none of the witnesses had ever met in person with the suspect,” Oak Bay police said in a statement, adding that the investigation with the assistance of Saanich police “is now concluded.”

The Land Title and Survey Authority of B.C. issued a warning about two attempts to steal ­property — “one of which was ­successful” — and urged real estate professionals to use extra vigilance.

The agency did not provide details on the locations.

In both cases, property managers responsible for renting the homes took instructions from a fraudster using different phone numbers and email addresses than those authorized by the owners, and shared documents that enabled the fraudster to better impersonate the owners, said the authority in a statement.

It said both properties were listed for sale by real estate agents who accepted a scanned copy of forged South African passports to verify the identity of the supposed owner.

In one case, a legal professional hired by the fraudster impersonating the registered owner also relied on a copy of the forged passport to verify the identity of the client, and assisted the fraudster in transferring the title of the ­property.

The land titles authority advises real estate agents to follow identity verification requirements issued by the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC) and professional regulatory groups, including the Real Estate Council of B.C.

It says real estate agents should be suspicious of requests from ­clients who live abroad to change any of their communication methods, or clients who express urgency or provide unusual instructions, such as listing the property for below market value or asking that traditional marketing methods, such as the Multiple Listing Service, not be used.

dkloster@timescolonist.com

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