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Secret service warns Gallatin County realtors of national housing scams

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Posted at 4:14 PM, Mar 30, 2023
and last updated 2023-03-30 18:19:16-04

The Bozeman housing market has cooled down but is still booming.

With all the homes still for sale around the city, it's important to be cautious and not let people take advantage of you when buying a home.

The Secret Service warned local real estate agencies and law enforcement about national housing scams to be aware of in Gallatin County. Remax Realty Group Broker, Joanna Harper, says this scam is not prominent in Gallatin County but is something to be aware of.

According to the Secret Service warning, the scheme entails criminal searching public records to identify real estate that is free of a mortgage or other liens. Then, they identify themselves as the property owner and contact real estate agents to list the property for sale below the current market value. The criminal asks for a cash buyer and doesn't sign closing documents in person, rather requests a remote signing. They then provide false documents to a title company or closing attorney. The title company or attorney then unwittingly transfers the closing proceeds to the criminal.

Bozeman Police Officer Lindsay Shepherd says they received a call from a local real estate agent about someone trying this scam on them.

“They received a call from a person claiming to be a property owner in Gallatin Valley and wanted to list their property for sale. Eventually, the realtor found out that the person who called is not the actual property owner,” said Shepherd.

Shepherd agrees that people need to be aware of how they buy their homes.

“If real estate agents or brokers, or even if it's going to be some type of private party sale, like through an attorney, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” said Shepherd.

Harper says about 40% of the housing market is cash buyers. This scam wouldn’t target a first-time home buyer. The bottom line is to take the proper steps to buy a home.

“These scammers rely on quickness. They rely on the people acting on impulse and desperate to gain, you know, to achieve what they think is a great deal on the house, not observing the best practices," said Harper.