Central Florida becoming the Wild West of real estate scams

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — The land had been passed down from her mother. It isn’t much to look at. No buildings, no utilities, and not really near anything else. Yet in early December, Patricia Waring discovered someone was trying to sell her land over the internet.

“Someone came to our gate and was asking about a piece of property that we had for sale out in east Orlando, and I said it’s not for sale,” Waring said.

>>> STREAM CHANNEL 9 EYEWITNESS NEWS LIVE <<<

Patricia’s property had been posted, well below market value, on Zillow. The prospective buyer found that odd and decided to track her down before sending a Michigan title company money for the land.

“As a friend said, ‘what if you hadn’t been in town?’ ‘What if that man had not come by?’ ‘Would that sale have gone through?” Waring said.

READ: ‘What in the world?’: A warning about an online property listing scam

Waring contacted Zillow, who took down the listing within hours.

A Zillow company representative sent Channel 9 the following statement:

“Zillow strives to provide a safe online platform, and we go to great lengths to police activity and fully inform our users of the existence of scams and how to protect themselves. Our teams use a number of different tools to prevent inappropriate content from publishing, and if a listing is found to be fraudulent after it’s posted, it is removed from Zillow as quickly as possible.”

READ: Florida Attorney General warns consumers of new scam targeting mobile payments

While Waring’s land could not have been sold online, scams like this are becoming increasing common in Central Florida as an influx of residents looking for homes and investors with cash are pouring into the area.

“If it sounds too good to be true, it is,” said Orlando Realtor Ray Lopez. “They used to run these scams on Craigslist, now it’s Facebook.”

READ: ‘I couldn’t believe it happened to me’: Homebuyer loses life savings to hacking scam

Lopez, who lists more than 100 homes a year, said the flow of cash into the area from across the country and even international investors, is drawing in more and more scammers who will use publicly available pictures to try to secure a down payment or deposit and then vanish.

While many of these scams revolve around renters who are asked to hand over a deposit for a home that is not for rent, the demand in the area has expanded into fake sales as well.

READ: Florida attorney general offers 9 tips to guard against fraud

In Waring’s case, the person who placed the ad used her first name but directed all calls to a Michigan number and stipulated those transactions would have to be done over the internet, rather than in person.

“The best thing to do is sign up for the fraud notification program and you’ll get a notification if someone tries to sell your property or put a lien on your property,” Orange County Comptroller Phil Diamond said.

READ: As housing prices hit all-time high, city staff say it’s a ‘long term’ problem

The service, which you can sign up for by clicking here, has already seen more than 28,000 people sign up.

In addition, Zillow has its own FAQ for people who want to keep their property from being involved in a possible scam. Click here for that information.

Click here to download the free WFTV news and weather apps, click here to download the WFTV Now app for your smart TV and click here to stream Channel 9 Eyewitness News live.