If you’ve recently received an invoice from an organization claiming to be a Realtor board, take a good look: It may be a scam.
Florida Realtors, the state Realtor association for the Sunshine State, today alerted its 165,000 members that an entity claiming to be the “Florida Board of Realtors” — which does not exist — had sent out fake bills for $225 to several members across the state.
The bills, which could be taken as dues notices by unsuspecting agents, threaten that “Failure to respond with your 2017 Agent Board Listing may lead to closure of board listing.”
The forms also include language regarding reporting requirements for criminal convictions, suggesting that not answering the form will put the agent’s state real estate license in danger.
“For now, members should ignore these demand letters, and we ask brokers and agents to spread this message to everyone working in the Florida real estate industry,” said Florida Realtors General Counsel Margy Grant in a press release.
In a RealtorMag article, the National Association of Realtors said it was “looking into the matter” and advised anyone who has sent a check to the “Florida Board of Realtors” to cancel it immediately.
The trade group also said that no other states have reported similar scams, but urged its 1.2 million members to report any suspicious mailings to email@example.com.
“We are still gathering information about the scam, so can’t answer questions about the number affected or if it’s also gone to non-member agents,” NAR General Counsel Katie Johnson told Inman.
‘Not a simple scam’
Florida Realtors CEO Bill Martin noted the sophistication of the “fraudulent letter scam.”
“[It]t’s not a simple scam. High-tech criminals put a great deal of work and planning into this,” he said in a statement.
The form includes a working URL for floridaboardofrealtors.org, which at first glance, appears to be a polished website devoted to Realtor jobs, complete with a logo, job listings and testimonials.
But many of the site’s links don’t work, including the site’s job search function.
The phone number on the form leads to an automated phone system that says “Thank you for calling the Florida Board,” tells the caller that all representatives are busy and invites the caller to leave a message.
Those that call about their “board listing” are told to “simply return” the bottom portion of the notice form with their payment to have their listing activated within 24 hours after their payment is received.
The “Make Checks Payable To” address belongs to a post office in Deerfield Beach, Florida.
“Criminals created a truly impressive fake website, sent a complex fake letter and successfully alarmed Realtors across the state,” Grant said.
NAR files complaint
When asked about the alleged scammers’ use of the Realtor name, NAR’s Johnson said, “[T]he use of Realtor is unauthorized in all respects.”
NAR has filed a complaint with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which manages the Internet’s domain name system, to get the floridaboardofrealtors.org domain name transferred to NAR, “at which point we would shut it down,” she said.
The trade group filed the complaint under ICANN’s Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP), which Johnson described as the international process for handling trademark infringement in domain names.
“NAR has won all of the UDRP complaints we’ve filed,” she said.
Florida Realtors issue cease and desist order
According to Florida Realtors, the association became aware of the scam after receiving calls from agents, brokers and association executives over the past two days.
When asked how many Florida Realtors members had been affected, Grant told Inman, “We estimate that Florida Realtors has received about 200 calls and/or emails from members about this scam.
“Many of the local Realtor boards/associations have also received calls from members about it as well. None of our members have responded to the scam letter or paid it, as far as we know.”
So far, the scam has only been disseminated as a mailed letter, she added.
Grant said Florida Realtors is investigating the scheme and has contacted Florida authorities, including the senior assistant attorney general in the economic crimes section in Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) and the Florida Real Estate Commission (FREC).
Florida Realtors is also considering legal action and has issued a cease and desist order, according to Grant.
Neither she nor NAR’s Johnson knew how the alleged scammers had obtained contact information for mailing the letters.
“[E]ach state regulatory board has its own rules and procedures for maintaining licensee information. It’s possible that the list was obtained from the state of Florida, but NAR has no way of knowing,” Johnson said.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with additional comments from NAR and Florida Realtors.