Catfishing is usually associated with online dating and romance, but beware: there are catfishing scammers out there looking to take advantage of unsuspecting San Diego homebuyers.
If you’ve been on Netflix lately, it’s likely you’ve seen the unbelievable Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax story.
San Diego is a beautiful city with a lot to offer. Unfortunately, it’s also the target of a growing number of scammers who are using the internet to prey on unsuspecting victims.
One of the latest scams to hit San Diego real estate is catfishing. This is where scammers create fake online profiles and websites in order to lure people into sending them money. The scammers then disappear with the victim’s money, leaving them heartbroken and out of pocket.
We hope this article gets the word out and prevents other people from becoming victims.
The first story begins when a friendly gentleman calls to speak with an agent about our listing. He goes on to explain that the woman he’s dating currently lives in Florida, but will be relocating here for work-related purposes; this means they are looking at homes in San Diego together.
The man explains he lives in a 55+ community in a nearby affluent area. He knows a few local agent’s and would probably use one of them to represent him on the buyer side; now he’s just doing legwork in anticipation of his girlfriend’s arrival.
“My girlfriend is coming to San Diego next week!”
“My girlfriend is coming to San Diego next week!” exclaims the excited voice on the line. It’s been a week since our last conversation. His girlfriend has planned her trip to San Diego for the upcoming weekend and he wants to schedule a private showing! He’s excited and of course, we’re thrilled that they are interested in our listing, especially since it means they’ll be coming in with cash right away…
By now though, I’m curious. Who is this woman and what job does she have that her company buys her a multi-million dollar property?
Following several conversations, I’ve built enough rapport to dig deeper about their relationship. It almost seemed like he had been waiting for me to ask… He goes on to explain that she’s relocating for an executive position at an energy drink company; oh also, she’s a beautiful model and much younger than himself…
Red Flag Warning
This story seemed slightly off in the beginning, but now the red flags are more apparent. This was the moment when I suggested we hold off on scheduling the showing until she actually arrives in San Diego. I also suggest that if he insists on using another agent to represent him as a buyer, that he have the agent contact me directly. He later agreed.
The next day my phone rings. “Her flight’s been canceled, she’s going to try to fly out on a private jet” He knows something’s wrong but doesn’t want to admit it.
He sounded nervous when he called, like there were pieces of the puzzle that didn’t fit together for him anymore and he couldn’t figure out what they meant or why this was happening. We bantered a bit about how ridiculous travel has been, but my suspicions were on full alert so I proceeded to inquire a little bit more about his girlfriend; specifically, how did they meet?
He describes the story about how they met online and how lucky he was to have such an attractive one considering how much younger she was than himself. I played along and proceeded to ask when was the last time they saw each other?
“We haven’t met in person yet”
“We haven’t met in person yet” the man answered. My heart sank. At this moment I believed beyond a doubt that this poor guy was being taken for a ride. I politely let him know that I can’t wait to meet her and again suggested he have his agent contact me.
The agent did contact me later that afternoon. She was a family friend of his but had not been fully brought up to speed on the situation.
She wanted to schedule an appointment, so I echoed my previous response by suggesting we wait until the girlfriend arrives before going ahead with anything else. I also went on to explain that I suspected the girlfriend didn’t actually exist and that her buyer was likely the victim of a catfishing scam.
A local agent requests a showing for his client. I have another showing already scheduled that day so said he could piggyback.
As the agent and his client arrive to the property, we exchange pleasantries and I ask his buyer where he’s from. He explains he’s from San Diego but the home will be for him and his fiancée, and that he’s currently living in a local 55+ community.
“She’ll be inheriting millions of dollars later in the month”
Before taking a further look at the house, he takes out his phone to show me a photo of his fiancée in New York. Proudly he proclaims how lucky he is because she’s so beautiful and because she’ll be inheriting millions of dollars later in the month.
He showed me the photo; my face went white and I felt a little sick. An attractive woman in her 30’s with long dark hair that curved towards her shoulders was the person in the photo. I knew before he could say anything what had happened: They met online but haven’t actually seen each other yet.
Politely I smiled, congratulated him, and suggested he take a look around the house. At that time, I pulled his agent aside to explain that his buyer was likely being catfished.
An easy target
The alarming fact that these two stories are so similar in context leads me to believe this occurrence is happening on a much larger scale.
Lonely people can be an easy target, especially those who may be a little older, trusting, and less aware of online deception.
It is unfortunate that since these men weren’t our client’s, we can only guess at what happened to them. But with awareness, hopefully we can help prevent others from experiencing similar heartbreak and financial loss from scams like this.