BENNINGTON, Vt. (NEWS10) — The Vermont District Attorney’s office says identity theft is one of the top ten scams in the state. But Jenifer Hoffman, Owner of Hoffman Real Estate, had no idea that a potential client looking to sell land was a possible scammer who had stolen someone’s identity.
“When I ultimately sent them all of the marketing information. And we went back and forth talking about the pricing strategy; he said that he agreed with everything I was proposing and that they were ready to proceed,” she said.
Even though none of the meetings were in person … she couldn’t help but feel that the deal was running too smoothly, especially when she asked for ID and then received passport photos. Hoffman looked deeper and found out that the real owners had moved out of the area 30 years ago, and while they still owned the land, they had not contacted her to sell it for them. The town was able to give Hoffman the actual owner’s contact information.
“So I picked up the phone, and I called the wife. I introduced myself, and I said, do you know who I am? And I gave her my first name and my company. She said, ‘no… Should I?’ And then I said, I’ve been emailing with your husband for a week,” she said. “And he happened to be in the car with her at the time. And she said, ‘Jose, do you know who this person is?’ Then he said, ‘No idea.’”
News10 tried to contact the couple, but they felt too uncomfortable to interview out of fear of being involved in another scam. But the real owners say they were shocked that scammers were pretending to be them.
Hoffman advises that if anyone is looking to buy land or even a home on their own- it’s always best to double-check with the town and look up any public information to help verify a listing.
“People are your best resource. Don’t be shy about what you’re trying to do,” she said. “Talk to the town, talk to your neighbors, and ideally meet those sellers in person and have them show you their ID.”