SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4) – A scam involving vacant lots and land parcels is re-emerging according to the Utah Department of Commerce’s Division of Real Estate.

In the scam, fraudsters locate a vacant plot of land, typically owned outright by another person, and impersonate the owner. They then list the property “for sale by owner” for prices well below market value on third-party property sites such as Zillow or through brokerages to get the property on a multiple listing service.

The Division of Real Estate says scammers will typically say they are out of state since there is often not a home or building on the property. Communication will be done through email or text and scammers will be aggressive for a quick close to the sale, including the use of a remote notary or title service.

Due to the nature of the scam, there may be little to no evidence for a buyer to suspect the “seller” is not who they say they are.

“Vacant lot or land parcel listings are an easier target for scammers because often there’s little reason to physically visit the property,” said Jonathan Stewart, Division of Real Estate Director. “Without a building or home to walk through, scammers can post photos and more easily pretend to be the seller.”

Margaret Busse, Executive Director of the Utah Department of Commerce said the scam shouldn’t deter anyone, but that buyers need to be extra careful when looking to buy vacant lots or land parcels.

To stay clear of these scams, buyers should look for the following red flags:

  • The listing involves vacant land or vacant condos.
  • The seller is out of state or even out of the country.
  • The seller will only sign documents remotely and will not meet locally.
  • The seller won’t provide detailed information on the property such as HOAs, utility charges, water rights, etc.
  • The vacant land is listed well below market value.
  • The seller is in a big hurry to close.
  • The seller acts aggressively or aloof.

The Division of Real Estate is also asking agents to take extra precautions to avoid land-selling scams. Agents who are contacted about selling vacant land are asked to do due diligence such as researching the name of the seller and checking photo ID, asking specific questions about property details, and taking additional steps to verify ownership of the land.

Deceptive listings should be reported to the listing site or brokerage as well as through the Division of Real Estate’s website.