Selling Property in France? Beware of Bogus Buyers

Selling Property in France? Beware of Bogus Buyers

While we sincerely hope that you may never have the misfortune of running across a scam artist posing as a property buyer, we would like to share the story brought to our attention by a kind reader, to reinforce the fact that you need to be very alert.

When you advertise a property for sale, you are never quite sure who will walk through the door, or phone, or email. We tend to think that it can’t happen to us because we are well informed about scams. The fact is however, that when you are pressed for time, answering several leads at the same time, and have your other business or personal matters to attend to, it is not that implausible to let your guard down just a fraction. Con-men know this, and use it their advantage.

A private seller advertising on our site was recently the target of just such unwanted attention and was kind enough to let us know in order to alert other potential vulnerable sellers.

The Case

A ‘buyer’ filled in the contact form on an online property listing, to express interest in a plot of land for sale in France. This ‘buyer’ gave his full name, email address and telephone number. Our seller duly replied requesting more details and credentials. At this time the ‘buyer’ explained that he was acting on behalf of his ‘principal’, a UAE national and reputed businessman who wished to remain anonymous.

Step by step, the transaction became more elaborate. The ‘principal’ was unable to meet in France because he was tied up with business engagements (in the case of the sale a plot of land, it isn’t unheard of for the buyer to conduct the purchase without a personal viewing). The correspondence exchange led up to a written confirmation of the terms of the sale, including details of the financial representative who would be handling the transaction, and a trip to Milan by our seller to complete the agreement, all travel expenses to be reimbursed by the ‘principal’.

At that point the true nature of the transaction began to unravel, the ‘principal’ was now requesting that the seller accept a cash payment. When the seller made clear that any transaction would need to be declared through official banking channels, the ‘principal’ stated that he would make arrangements through the seller’s appointed notaire in France. On this understanding, the seller returned home to the UK. None of these promises were delivered. The ‘buyer’ and ‘principal’ ceased all communication leaving the seller with nothing but time wasted, travel expenses and aggravation.

Best Practices

This is just one example; there are many variations of the above manipulation schemes. They purport to be from different countries, unable to meet for different reasons, insisting on a cash only purchase, or to immediately refund the over-payment in a cheque before the normal time period for the funds to clear. They do this once the vulnerable seller has invested considerable time and resources in the negotiation.

What can you do? Better to err on the side of caution if:

  • The buyer wants to purchase the property without seeing it. While this legitimately happens, it is highly infrequent.
  • There is any out of pocket expense required by you (the seller), or you are asked to release any funds before the payment has been made to you, or the funds have cleared on a cheque.
  • You are asked to send your name, address, and bank account number, passport number. It may be a case of identity theft.
  • The buyer is using mobile phones and does not give a landline number. When you look up the number, something is off. It is linked to different names, addresses or companies, or the country code doesn’t match the location of the buyer.
  • You are asked to accept cash, the money may be fake, it may be a money-laundering racket, or you may be ambushed and robbed once the funds are in your possession.

Did you find this information useful? Have you been the target of a bogus property buyer? Feel free to add your comments here and share your experience on our forum.

Are you looking to sell your property in France? Maximise your chances of selling your French property with FrenchEntrée and start generating enquiries from motivated property purchasers.

The information in this article is provided for informational purposes and does not constitute legal, professional or financial advice. We encourage you seek the advice of a relevant professional before acting on any of this information. Any hyperlinks to other resources are provided as sources and assistance and are not intended as an endorsement.

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Sylvia is a freelance journalist based in France, focusing on business and culture. A valued member of the France Media editorial team, Sylvia is a regular contributor to our publication.

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  • petera
    2018-04-05 10:30:12
    Hi/ Confused: Does this article refer to an actual scam, or did the vendor just walk away from a "dodgy" buyer, who wanted to pay cash? Is the article saying that somehow the seller would have been cheated? I do not see what the purchaser gained from the transaction? Be great if some one can comment?