An email scam that has struck real estate agents in other areas has become a bit of a nuisance for the head of one of the largest commercial real estate firms in the Wilmington area.
For Grayson Powell, managing partner of Wilmington-based Coldwell Banker Commercial Sun Coast Partners, the scam began to emerge in May. Bogus emails using Powell’s name and his company’s name were sent to potential marks across the country.
While their prolific use of commas might have sent a signal to some recipients, the grammar mistakes in the emails might not have been quite obvious enough, as similar phishing and infection scams are with capital letters throughout and garbled wording, to keep others from clicking on links that could infect their computers with viruses.
Those who responded to a short email, purporting to be from Powell offering a referral, would receive this in return: “Thank you for your response, apologies for the slow response, I just returned from vacation, I hope you can assist my client in the purchase of this home or any other they might be interested in, they are newly wedded couple and are cash buyers, I will charge a 20% referral fee, below are the listings they are interested in and would love to set up a showing,” the emails said. “I shared the listings below using the Google Drive pages. Please see if you can take a look tonight.”
The scammer includes a link labeled “MLS listings and Property Address.”
“I can’t tell you how many phone calls and emails I’ve gotten over the last two months,” Powell said recently. While his phone number wasn’t in the emails, the phone calls have come from folks who looked up his name online after receiving them. “I’ve had calls from all over the United States.”
Powell wanted to get the word out about the scam.
“It’s a nagging little headache. It’s not a big thing, but the problem is that people can get the virus,” he said. “I don’t get harmed really as bad as the person who actually tries to open it.”
The scammer also sent out emails with the names Cabtree Fowler and Traci Fowler, pretending to be from Coldwell Banker Commercial in Wilmington.
It’s a scam that has affected agents in other parts of the country.
The National Association of Realtors posted an article last year on the nightmare the scam caused for Sue Dietz, a sales associate with RE/MAX Advantage Realty in Dubuque, Iowa. In her case, the article said, 4,000 practitioners from 50 states and Canada who received the email had contacted her since 2016.
“People who receive this email are encouraged to report it as spam or a phishing attempt. The hope is that if enough people take such action, the IP address of the sender will be blocked,” wrote Graham Wood, senior editor of REALTOR Magazine, in an NAR blog about the scam.
Wood pointed out several tips Realtors can use to try to avoid the problem. Additionally, NAR’s website has numerous resources on scams like these, and the N.C. Real Estate Commission tweeted Monday that agents should “go to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center website: http://ic3.gov to find tips on recognizing and avoiding internet scams. Victims can also file complaints online through the website.”
The Federal Trade Commission’s website offers advice as well, stating, “Phishing scammers lure their targets into a false sense of security by spoofing the familiar, trusted logos of established, legitimate companies. Or they pretend to be a friend or family member.”
The FTC also points out, “Scammers also use phishing emails to get access to your computer or network then they install programs like ransomware that can lock you out of important files on your computer.”