December 5th - 2012

Identity theft hits real estate professional

Although consumers must be wary of identity theft, a recent incident in London, Ontario shows that real estate practitioners must also be cautious.

The chance that another real estate salesperson in the area shared her name seemed far-fetched to Buffy Tavares-Ellis. But the likelihood that her namesake was also renting out her listing was too much for her to believe.

Tavares-Ellis learned she was a victim of identity theft. “The whole thing put my professional reputation on the line,” she says. “And there may be consumers out there who were also victims.”

A REALTOR® with Realty Executives Elite Ltd. Brokerage, she listed a new house for sale on a popular buying and selling website. The builder’s model had never been occupied. A consumer phoned her to ask about renting it, but the owner had never planned to lease. Tavares-Ellis explained that to the caller, and initially believed it was an isolated mistake until another prospective renter called. She then contacted the police.

Someone had lifted her personal information and a property description from her website and created a separate phony email address in her name. The fraudster posted the information to a rental ad, asking for a deposit of $750 plus a monthly rental fee of $1,000. 

Another potential renter who contacted the fake “Buffy” email account was told that the owner had gone to Spain and was in “urgent need to rent the property”. A quick deposit was required to take advantage of this deal. London police have been unable to trace the perpetrator and are not aware of anyone who lost money. However, it is possible someone was victimized and did not report it.  

Protect yourself against identity theftMeanwhile, it was a learning experience for Tavares-Ellis. In total, four prospective renters called her and she advised them of the scam. “Those who drove by the property saw the information didn’t match -- the lawn had a For Sale sign but the ad said For Rent.”

Tavares-Ellis still wonders whether any consumers innocently forwarded money to the fraudster, thinking they were dealing with the real Buffy. “It’s so easy for someone to create an email address, and the name of the fake account was similar to my real one.”

Consumers dealing with a REALTOR® should meet them face-to-face, she advises. Through the Real Estate Council of Ontario, consumer protection is available and legitimate real estate professionals are required to have appropriate registration and insurance.

She also cautions REALTORS® to be diligent in protecting their identities. Take the time to search your name on the internet and Google it on a regular basis to ensure that no-one is fraudulently using your identity. “We spend years building up our careers, and this has the potential to destroy your professional reputation.”

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For more information contact

Ontario Real Estate Association

Jean-Adrien Delicano

Manager, Media Relations

416-445-9910 ext. 246