Real estate hacking scam tricks clients

SWFL – Real estate agents are warning you of a growing scam in Southwest Florida that may cost you thousands of dollars.

It involves hackers sending you emails that look like they are from your agent but they are actually from crooks who are after your money.

“These people monitor that account so as soon as that money hits, it’s overseas,” said Jackie Hooker with TD Title.

Real estate agents tell 4 In Your Corner hackers are intercepting emails between you and your agent, targeting buyers and sellers by sending emails that appear to be from someone you think you know.

“They use that fake email to change some type of instruction or curve the situation so they get more information out of you,” Hooker said.

That is information scammers are using to steal your money.

“Usually on a sale, it’s a nominal amount of money. It’s not $20 or $50. It’s not replaceable,” Hooker said.

Local and federal law enforcement are aware of the tricks, but often aren’t able to get your money back once it’s gone.

“There’s no FBI tracing, there’s no police report that’s going to save it. It’s gone,” Hooker said.

The National Association of Realtors recommends you refrain from sending sensitive information via email. Never trust an email just because it looks legit — scammers are pros at this. Always call the person on the other end before you wire money.

“…Now we have to go back to relaying on that phone communication because of these types of scams that are going on,” Hooker said.



Camden flats: Hundreds of homes evacuated over fire risk fears

More than 700 flats in tower blocks on an estate in the Swiss Cottage area of north-west London have been evacuated because of fire safety concerns.

Camden Council said people in four towers on the Chalcots estate were moved for “urgent fire safety works”.

The council added it was booking hotels but around 100 residents have spent the night on air beds in a leisure centre.

The estate’s cladding is similar to Grenfell Tower in west London, where a fire is feared to have killed 79.

Chalcots was refurbished between 2006 and 2009 by the same firm, Rydon, that oversaw work at Grenfell Tower in 2015-16.

Camden Council said it will remove external thermal cladding from five tower blocks on the Chalcots estate.

It also said there were concerns about the insulation of gas pipes going into flats, and fire doors.

The council initially announced the evacuation of one tower block, Taplow, but later extended the move to all five tower blocks it had checked.

In the early hours of Saturday morning, the council then announced that one of the five – Blashford – did not need to be evacuated, and residents could return.

Blashford is smaller and has “several different design elements”.

Residents of the estate attended a public meeting with council officials on Thursday evening.

The council’s Labour leader, Georgia Gould, said the decision to evacuate the buildings was made at 18:30 BST on Friday.

She said the fire service “told us they could not guarantee our residents’ safety in those blocks”.

Some residents said the first they heard of the evacuation was on the news.

The council has secured 270 hotel rooms so far. Emergency accommodation was set up at Swiss Cottage leisure centre and at the Camden Centre in King’s Cross.

“We’re encouraging all residents to stay with friends and family if they can, otherwise we’ll provide accommodation,” the council said.

“I know it’s difficult, but Grenfell changes everything and I just don’t believe we can take any risk with our residents’ safety and I have to put them first,” Ms Gould said.

She said the work is expected to take three to four weeks. Residents will be allowed in at the weekend to collect more possessions under escort from the fire brigade.

Prime Minister Theresa May tweeted: “My thoughts are with residents being evacuated in Camden while their homes are made safe tonight.”

She said the government was “offering every support we can” to residents and officials working at the estate.

Alex Regan, BBC News

As the sun set on Swiss Cottage, there was frustration among residents of the Chalcots estate.

With tower blocks being evacuated, the streets were teeming with neighbours, children, and cameramen.

Camden Council employees wearing hi-viz vests stood outside the Taplow tower, speaking to residents.

Some of them only realised their homes were being evacuated after hearing news reports.

Most were not in the mood to talk. One woman shouted angrily at a TV cameraman: “Can you tell me what’s going on?”

Teacher Kim Price, who lives in Blashford tower with her 14-year-old son, said: “At 4pm today they said it would be okay and that all the checks were fine.

“And now all of a sudden the news is saying we should get out.

“We’ve had two letters in two days saying ‘you’re not safe’ then ‘you’re safe’. I don’t really know what to do.”

Edward Strange, who lives in an 11th floor flat with his wife and young daughter, said the evacuation was a “complete overreaction”.

He told the BBC there had been two previous fires in the block which were easily contained.

“I’ve got a young daughter, a wife and a cat, I’ve also got a job. They said it’d take four to six weeks. If the council says four to six weeks it’ll take four to six months.”

Among those evacuated was Peter Bertram, 94, who has lived on the estate for 46 years.

The former RAF airman, who served in World War Two, said having to leave his home at short notice was a “shock”.

“My neighbour told me ‘Get this and that’. It happened so quick, I don’t have the energy for that now. It’s an experience.”

Bob O’Toole, chair of Chalcots Estate residents’ association, told BBC Breakfast that contractors had been working overnight in several of the tower blocks.

“A lot of people are annoyed because of the way [the evacuation] was done. They’re saying it was left too late in the evening. But Camden Council didn’t get the information till late, and they acted on that as quickly as possible.”

Communities Secretary Sajid Javid said other areas, such as Plymouth and Manchester, had seen measures introduced such as 24-hour fire wardens and did not need evacuating.

“What was very different here is that the local fire service found multiple other failures in fire safety that should have already been in place in the towers, and as a result of that, they’ve made this quite correct decision.”

Mr Javid also said the government would “work with” any local authorities and housing associations that needed financial support to carry out necessary fire safety work in tower blocks.

“Public safety is absolutely paramount, you cannot put a price on people’s lives. So local authorities have to do whatever it takes to get their buildings safe.”

Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow business secretary, said people who were in towers where cladding was being investigated would be “living in fear”.

“I’ve had hundreds of constituents contacting my office over the last week, asking whether the buildings they’re living in are safe.

“People need to give significant weight to the voice of residents, and if they do want to be moved, if they feel unsafe and haven’t been reassured, then provision should be put in place [to move them].”

Camden Council agreed a contract with Rydon Construction to refurbish the Chalcots estate in May 2006 at a cost of £66m.

The work took more than three and a half years. Five towers received new cladding, and 711 flats were modernised with new wiring, heating, kitchens and bathrooms.

Friday night’s announcement came as the Metropolitan Police said the Grenfell Tower fire started in a fridge-freezer, and outside cladding and insulation failed safety tests.

  • ‘Safety comes first’ for tower block dwellers
  • Visual guide to the Grenfell Tower fire
  • London fire: Who are the victims?

A national operation to identify buildings with cladding similar to that used in Grenfell Tower has seen local authorities send samples for independent tests.

The Department for Communities and Local Government said 14 residential high-rise buildings in nine local authority areas have now been found with cladding that raises safety concerns.


Hundreds of homes evacuated after Grenfell fire

Residents of a London housing estate are ordered out of their homes after fire officers are unable to guarantee their safety.

Residents leave a tower block on the Chalcots Estate in Camden, London, as the building is evacuated in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire to allow “urgent fire safety works” to take place.

Hundreds of residents of four London tower blocks have spent the night in emergency accommodation after they were told to leave their homes amid fire safety fears.

The blocks in Camden, north London, containing up to 800 households, were evacuated late last night following news that similar cladding was used on the Chalcots Estate to that which spread the Grenfell Tower fire in Kensington earlier this month.

Council leader Georgia Gould said that, following checks, insulation was found to be safe but external cladding on the blocks “was not up to the standard that we wanted and was not fire retardant”.

The Taplow residential tower block is seen on the Chalcots Estate in north London on June 23, 2017
Tower blocks housing thousands of people across England are being urgently tested to check if their outer coverings pose a serious fire risk following the Grenfell Tower disaster, with nearly a dozen already testing positive for combustible material. 11 buildings have already been confirmed by the Government to have combustible cladding including five buildings on the Chalcots Estate in north London. Camden Council said in a statement that the external cladding panels on the five blocks at the estate did not satisfy their independent laboratory testing and that they would immediately begin preparing to remove them. / AFP PHOTO / NIKLAS HALLE’N (Photo credit should read NIKLAS HALLE’N/AFP/Getty Images)

She added that the “really, really difficult decision” had been made to evacuate the blocks while urgent fire safety work is completed.

It is thought the work will take three to four weeks.

“We realise that this is hugely distressing for everyone affected and we will be doing all we can, alongside the London Fire Brigade and other authorities, to support our residents at this difficult time,” Ms Gould said.

“The Grenfell fire changes everything – we need to do everything we can to keep residents safe.”

Ms Gould added: “I know this is difficult but…I don’t believe we can take any risks with our residents’ safety and I have to put them first.

“We know it’s a scary time but we’ll make sure they’re safe.”

Swiss Cottage Leisure Centre and Library has been set up as a rest centre

Responding to mounting criticism over Camden’s handling of the evacuation, Sajid Javid, the Communities and Local Government minister told Sky News: “After the Grenfell Tower tragedy, it is vital we carry out checks and make sure people are safe.

“The the local fire safety authority found alongside the cladding problem, which is a serious problem, multiple fire safety failures, including, for example, insulation of gas pipes, fire doors missing, plywood above doors and that’s what makes Camden different and why the decision was made to evacuate.”

Asked why non-cladding fire risks had not been picked up in previous checks, Mr Javid said: “I ask myself that question. These are multiple fire safety check failures. These are things … that have nothing to do with the cladding, such as fire doors not being there, auto door closers not being there … you even had with these towers situations where some of the internal walls were breached.

“You’ve asked a very good question as to why did this happen in the first place. Why, how could this building have passed fire safety checks? How could it have been given the green light when clearly there were breaches of the fire safety code?”

Mr Javid said there would have to be a long-term review of safety regulations, stating: “That has to happen. In a country like ours, one of the richest countries in the world, in the 21st century, these kind of things absolutely should not be happening.”

By the early hours of Saturday many residents had been sent to a rest centre at Swiss Cottage Library before council workers allocate them accommodation in hotels or, if possible, with family and friends.

Around 83 people have refused to leave their homes, according to the council.

In a statement issued at 1.24am, a spokesman for Camden Council said: “So far we have secured hundreds of hotel beds for Chalcots residents.

“We’re encouraging all residents to stay with friends and family if they can, otherwise we’ll provide accommodation.

Inside the refuge centre at Swiss Cottage

“Swiss Cottage rest centre is nearing capacity so we’ve secured more space at the Camden Centre King’s Cross.

“Specialist staff are on the ground to assist residents with care needs. Pets are also welcome at both rest centres and hotel accommodation.”

The Chalcots estate has five tower blocks – four 22 storey blocks and one 18 storey block. Blashford Tower, which is the shorter block, did not have to be evacuated as initially stated.

Residents leaving Taplow Tower on Chalcots Estate

Taplow resident Shirley Phillips said she had no sleep on Friday night after she was unable to secure a place in a hotel.

She told Sky News: “They called me a few hours ago and said they had a hotel for me at the Holiday Inn in Camden Town. But when I got there they said there had been a mistake, someone else had taken the room.

“They say the earliest they can get me somewhere is tonight, but it’s not 100%.”

Other residents said the evacuation was an “over-reaction”.

Edward Strange said: “We’ve had two fires here since the cladding was put on and both fires didn’t spread so I don’t see what the problem is.

“It’s a complete over-reaction, it’s ridiculous.”

The Grenfell Tower is engulfed in flames (AP)

Bob O’Toole from the residents’ association said he had only been told about the evacuation about an hour earlier, adding: “We want to keep the residents safe – we don’t want any more disasters”.

Fire safety expert Stephen MacKenzie told Sky News: “I think (the council has) done the sensible thing in this case.

“I’m at a loss as to why Theresa May has not convened (emergency committee) Cobra today to get emergency arrangements led by central government to support local authorities, to give the residents the necessary reassurance and address this issue.”

Former “We Buy Ugly Houses” franchisee admits to running real estate ponzi scheme

Misused investor money, forged investors’ signatures on deeds

The former owner of a “We Buy Ugly Houses” franchise admitted in federal court this week that she mislead investors, misused investors’ money, forged investors’ signatures on deeds, and ran what amounted to a real estate ponzi scheme.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Colorado, Karen McClaflin pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud and one count of engaging in a monetary transaction in property derived from wire fraud, stemming from various acts of fraud stretching back to 2005.

Per court documents, McClaflin and a partner opened a franchise of “We Buy Ugly Houses” named Trademark Properties and Trademark Reality in Colorado Springs in 2005.

Trademark’s business involved using investor money to purchase and renovate distressed houses, and then reselling those houses at a profit. But, by 2011, Trademark had run up so much debt that McClaflin’s partner declared bankruptcy and terminated their partnership.

McClaflin chose not to declare bankruptcy herself, rather McClaflin decided to open another company using the same “fix and flip” business model.

That new company was called Homesource Partners and McClaflin took her investors with her from Trademark to Homesource.

McClaflin ran Homesource from late 2010 through early March 2017. During that time, McClaflin told investors that Homesource sought loans to finance the company’s “fix and flip” business because Homesource was not able to use traditional bank loans.

McClaflin told her investors that traditional bank loans took too long and some of the distressed homes she was interested in buying may not qualify as collateral.

Court documents showed that McClaflin told investors that Homesource would seek to buy distressed houses that were deeply discounted, stating that the plan was to purchase the houses for no more than 80% of the “as is” value of the house.

To further entice the investors into buying into the company, McClaflin told the investors that Homesource had “exit strategies” to profit from the distressed houses, including selling the houses within 30 days for an immediate profit, “fixing and flipping” the houses within 31-90 days, or fixing the houses and renting them if the houses failed to sell within 90 days.

McClaflin also told the investors that each of them would be buying a single property, secured by a Deed of Trust in first position on that property, which McClaflin would record on the investor’s behalf.

Occasionally, McClaflin also told investors their Deed of Trust would be in second position.

McClaflin also told investors that they would receive an interest rate of 6% to 15% on their investment.

But, court documents show that many of those claims were untrue.

Beginning in March 2011, McClaflin “knowingly and intentionally” started using several investors’ money to “invest” in the same property and began placing multiple Deeds of Trust on the same properties.

Additionally, in late March or April 2011, McClaflin intentionally chose not to record all of the investors’ Deeds of Trust as she had promised. But McClaflin still falsely represented to the investors that they’d receive a first Deed of Trust.

McClaflin even went so far as to forge the signatures of some investors on a release so McClaflin could remove that investor’s Deed of Trust from a property without the investor’s knowing about it.

McClaflin also occasionally neglected to tell her investors when their property sold and did not return their investment to them as promised.

On top of all of that, at some point in 2013, Homesource’s debt had grown so high and the interest payments owed to investors were so far beyond Homesource’s gross profits, that McClaflin began using new investors’ money to pay off her earlier investors.

According to court documents, an analysis of Homesource’s financial situation showed that the influx of new investor funds kept the company operating, particularly in its latter years. Without that new investor funding, Homesource would have failed years ago, court documents showed.

McClaflin is scheduled to be sentenced on one count of wire fraud and one count of engaging in a monetary transaction in property derived from wire fraud on Jan. 17, 2018.


Danbury real estate firm lands another RV park in Florida

Richard O’Brien, founder and CEO of Athena Real Estate, stands in his office on Mill Plain Road in Danbury, Conn., on Friday, June 23, 2017.

DANBURY — Athena Real Estate is not your typical property investment firm.

Instead of targeting homes, empty lots or office buildings, the Danbury-based firm zeroes in on RV parks, manufactured home communities and self-storage facilities. This week, Athena Real Estate announced its latest acquisition, Silver Springs RV Park and Campers Garden, in Silver Springs, Fla. It is a 199-site park located across the street from Silver Spring State Park, a well-known nature park.

The firm seeks those types of properties as they were the kind of investments and loans Athena founder and CEO Richard O’Brien specialized in when he worked as a managing director of GE Capital Real Estate in the late 1990s and early 2000s. O’Brien also previously served as CFO and executive vice president of FelCor Lodging Trust, a real estate investment trust.

“Our philosophy is to obtain premium returns for value-added opportunities where focused and experienced management provide a competitive advantage,” O’Brien said. “We target acquisitions that allow us to create value from below-market occupancy or rents, and property in need of capital or more professional management.”

Silver Springs RV Park was the 21st property acquisition for Athena Real Estate since O’Brien founded the firm in 2004. The company still owns the 20 properties and operates the facilities through its property management arm.

“We like the idea of holding onto properties for the long term, rather than a quick flip,” O’Brien said. “Commercial real estate tends to grow in value over time.”

The majority of the properties owned by Athena are in Florida, South Carolina and North Carolina. O’Brien said the firm targets the Southeast because of its growing population, especially with baby boomers, and affordable cost of living.

“Population growth leads to economic growth,” said O’Brien, who employs about 20 people at the firm’s Danbury headquarters.

Athena Real Estate does not own properties in Connecticut because O’Brien said he hasn’t found the “right property at the right time.” He said he would acquire self-storage, multifamily or unanchored retail property in Connecticut if he found the right opportunity.

Silver Spring RV Park is popular among retirees in the winter and families in the summer, O’Brien said. The property includes a clubhouse and outdoor recreational facilities including a swimming pool, horseshoe pits, bocce ball court and shuffleboard surface.

“We remain in the hunt to buy high-quality RV parks and resorts across the United States,” O’Brien said. “We have acquired three properties in the last six months and we’re under contract on another. I am a disciplined investor and deploy capital as the circumstances present themselves.”

Athena targets RV parks, O’Brien said, because it is a growing trend that he expects to continue with baby boomers retiring and younger professionals purchasing large RVs and demanding quality amenities and services at the parks. Many parks, he added, are closing for different uses, therefore limiting supply.

Real Trends: Meet 2017’s 1,000 top-producing real estate agents and teams

‘The Thousand’ breaks down real estate’s highest performers by transaction sides and sales volume

There’s a lot of talk and braggadocio in the real estate industry, but the numbers don’t lie. And the top 1,000 agents and teams were ranked today based on the data alone.

Real Trends, in conjunction with The Wall Street Journal, just released the 12th annual The Thousand list, which is divided into four categories: individual agent sales volume; individual agent transaction sides; team sales volume; and team transaction sides.

“The real estate sales professionals ranked in The Thousand have proven that they have the skills to grow their businesses year after year,” said Steve Murray, president of Real Trends and publisher of The Thousand in a statement. “The average U.S. real estate professional sold 8.6 homes in 2016. The average agent ranked in The Thousand sold 192 homes and the average team sold over 470 homes.

“These kinds of results show that those who commit to being full-time professionals can build meaningful businesses and succeed beyond expectations. Achieving this level of results is simply incredible.”

Here’s who made up the top of the list, comprised of agents from both independent and franchise brokerages:

Individual Agent: Sales Volume

  • Ben Caballero;; Addison, Texas
  • Efi Luzon; Intero Real Estate Services; Los Altos, California
  • Alexa Lambert; Stribling & Associates; New York
  • Erin Aries; Brown Harris Stevens; New York
  • Mauricio Umansky; The Agency; Beverly Hills


Individual Agent: Transaction Sides

  • Ben Caballero; HomesUSA; Addison, Texas
  • Brian Bair; Bair Group/Liberty Properties; Gilbert, Arizona
  • Amy Wienands; Amy Wienands Real Estate; Waterloo, Iowa
  • Monica Breckenridge; Pink Realty; Colorado Springs, Colorado
  • Larry Magguilli; Hunt Real Estate ERA; Rochester, New York

Agent Team: Sales Volume

  • The Creig Northrop Team, Long & Foster Real Estate; Clarksville, Maryland
  • The DeLeon Team; DeLeon Realty; Palo Alto, California
  • The Eklund Gomes Team; Douglas Elliman Real Estate; New York
  • Halton Pardee + Partners; Halton Pardee + Partners; Venice, California
  • Ryan Serhant; Nest Seekers International; New York


Agent Team: Transaction Sides

  • Rhonda Duffy; Duffy Realty of Atlanta; Alpharetta, Georgia
  • Mark Spain Real Estate; Mark Spain Real Estate; Alpharetta, Georgia
  • The Creig Northrop Team; Long & Foster Real Estate; Clarksville, Maryland
  • Ryan O’Neill & The Minnesota Real Estate Team; Re/Max Advantage Plus; Lakeville, Minnesota
  • Lucido Agency; Keller Williams Realty; Ellicott City, Maryland


Another metric measuring top performance is sales price. For the second year now, Real Trends included additional agent and team rankings for this category.

Individual Agent: Average Sales Price

  • Lorne Gornitsky; Keller Williams Realty; Boca Raton, Florida
  • Adam Kessner; Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate Rand Realty; White Plains, New York
  • Ann Dashiell; Douglas Elliman Real Estate; Beverly Hills
  • Nancy Chan; Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties; Pasadena, California
  • Becky Lee; Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty; Kirkland, Washington

Agent Team: Average Sales Price

  • Samira Gores, Tiffany Martin & Christine Martin; The Agency; Beverly Hills
  • Petrie Team; Compass; East Hampton, New York
  • Zachary and Cody Vichinsky; Bespoke Real Estate; Water Mill, New York
  • Mary and Brent Gullixson; Alain Pinel Realtors; Menlo Park, California
  • Katherine Gauthier Team; Douglas Elliman Real Estate; New York

U.S. view: ‘Sleepy’ Victoria a real-estate bargain

Victoria is a picturesque “sleepy” place with wooded roads, a laid-back lifestyle, lively harbour and a small-town vibe, according to the Wall Street Journal. Photograph By ADRIAN LAM, Times Colonist

It’s always fun to find out how others see us. The Wall Street Journal put its magnifying glass over Victoria’s real estate market to describe it as a “comparative bargain.”

In comparison with Vancouver’s prices, that is.

Victoria is a picturesque “sleepy” place with wooded roads, a laid-back lifestyle, lively harbour and a small-town vibe, the paper said in its Thursday edition.

Gosh. We sound so cute. Adorable even.

Our urban deer even get a mention with the article noting that they are a common sight.

The story points out that Victoria can be reached only by air or by boat, and our airport does not have direct flights to Europe or Asia. It thinks we are short on high-end shopping and a hot nightlife.

Even so, the story said that the Victoria housing market is waking up. We know that it’s been awake for a while. Just ask anyone who has tried to find a single-family house in the core in the past few years. Our market is sizzling hot and inventory is tight.

The article reports commonly held views about Victoria’s housing market: It attracts Canadian retirees and semi-retired professionals; demand for housing is coming from buyers priced out of Vancouver; and the luxury market is taking off.