Sylvia’s text likely offers phishing scam in booming real estate market
Homeowners receive text messages from someone claiming to be “Sylvia” asking them if they still own their home at a certain address and if they would be willing to sell.
And because the texts are so specific, it makes people do a double take or even respond.
“They look and act legitimately, but how do they know me and my skill, and if I say ‘Yes’ what are they going to do? Brian Kirby, a lawyer for Ballard Spahr, said.
He has received dozens of calls over the years to buy his out-of-state home and has now received a text from “Sylvia” in Sioux Falls. He is not alone. Dozens of people have shared on social media how eerily specific the text is and how it asks questions about the sale of their home.
But as with most things that seem slightly offbeat, the post is most likely a scam – part of a growing trend of SMS scams over the past few years that have hit homeowners dealing with people legitimately looking to buy. off-market homes in a recent sparse real estate landscape.
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Several Argus Leader calls to a 605 number that “Sylvia” appeared to be using returned a “User busy” signal.
“We knew it was going to happen. We expected this to happen because other states are facing this, ”said Jody Gillaspie, director of consumer protection at the state attorney general’s office. “We’re a little shocked that we didn’t get it sooner than that.”
Text messages offering to refinance, buy and make other fraudulent financial requests or offers on homes have been occurring since 2019 across the country, Gillaspie said, and they are now hitting the heavily populated eastern part of South Dakota. Not only are these texts frequent, they’re much more insightful than the canned robocalls that people are used to ignoring, like the now-joking “extended warranty” scam.
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Scott Willson and his wife recently received a text from “Sylvia”. Willson reached out to the Friends of McKennan Park Facebook group to see if his neighbors had also received the bizarre request. Dozens responded that they had been asked for the exact same thing.
Neighbors were shocked that their addresses and mobile numbers were found in the first place and linked.
“Very, very interesting, they were doing spear phishing (targeted phishing) that way,” said Willson, director of customer success at Metabank. “It was a violation of my privacy. Like what else do you have on me?
Willson has 23 years of experience in cyberattacks in finance, but has never seen anything or text like this in his personal life before.
“They’ve got a pretty good roster together somewhere,” Gillaspie said. “They can go to any public portal to find the house. But then, literally matching them with a cell phone number is sophisticated. (To do this) they may need to buy a listing (on the black market) and then go to sites to make the scam more legitimate.
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Over the summer, scammers have used real rental or apartment addresses and tried to sell them as “security deposits” to unsuspecting applicants looking out of state and desperately trying to enter a tight rental market, the consumer protection bureau found.
Now houses are being targeted for everything from a scam to “protect” securities to escrow fraud to bogus house offers.
What can consumers do to protect themselves from “Sylvia” or anyone else?
What do you do with a welcome offer text?
Don’t answer. Don’t click any links, Gillaspie said.
Then contact the South Dakota Real Estate Commission to see if the person texting you is licensed in the state as an agent.
Plus, “Ask your friends for recommendations for a legitimate local agent and chat before you answer a call or text,” said Maggie Miller, real estate agent at HEGG.
What to do if you replied to someone asking for information about your home in a text
For homeowners who responded to “Sylvia” or similar, stating whether or not they own the house, the requested text put them in danger.
“It can really be the smallest detail like, ‘When did you move in there? Or “What do you like most about the house?” Because that makes it legitimate for the next scam. You just have to be very careful what you tell them, ”said Gillaspie.
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This information will then go into the next round of text scams. The next attack will likely take place in 30-60 days and could be on a similar topic or even point to the owner’s mortgage or title company looking for information, said Gillaspie.
The Consumer Protection Bureau has found that people are more likely to respond to a scammer’s text than to a robocall and that the trend will continue.
“We just saw a huge, huge increase with that,” Gillaspie said in the past seven years of fighting scams. “They were just relentless.”
If you believe you have shared personal information that puts your identity at risk, or if you have questions about a call or text, contact Consumer Protection at 1-800-300-1986.