Vacant land scams are unfortunately happening in this real estate market.

What is a vacant land scam?

Scammers are researching public records for vacant land (meaning no structure on them) and no mortgage or liens on the property.

They research the owners to make sure to get as much information as possible to appear to be the land owners and often create falsified documents like fake driver’s licenses to “back up” their “identity.”

They then call a local real estate agent and pose as the land owners to list “their” property for sale and sell to unsuspecting buyers.

They express their desire to sell to a cash buyer for a quick sale.

Due to fake documentation, it can possibly appear that these scammers are real people and the real owners of the property. Also, with the potential for a remote closing or the seller pre-signing out of town with a notary public, the potential for this to go far could possibly be higher than you may expect.

In 2023, a story made headlines about a man who owned a property in Connecticut and returned to the land to find that a house was being built on it – but he never sold the property. He said he very specifically left this land undeveloped. The developer who was building the house had no idea the property was sold to them fraudulently. The real owner of the property wants the structure removed, and the developer is out hundreds of thousands of dollars from paying for the land and the structure itself, as well as paying workers to build the house.

We recently had a discussion about this issue in our office, as apparently this type of scam may have happened not long ago right in Timonium, though I did not find any posts about this to verify.

Vacant land scams are also happening near DC, with Channel 4 doing a news story on a family whose lot was “for sale” – despite them not listing it nor planning to sell it.

So, what can you do if you see a lot for sale and potentially want to purchase?

Make sure to ask your buyer agent to ask the listing agent if they have met the seller either in person or over Zoom. Ask if there has been documentation sent to the mailing address in the public records to confirm the listing/sellers.

If you do go under contract on a vacant lot property, make sure to hire a title company to do the closing who is aware of these types of scams. Hopefully they may be able to assure you that they will try to do everything possible to ensure this is a valid sale. In Maryland, generally a buyer of a property has a right to choose a title company to handle the closing.

If you are an owner of a vacant lot, you may want to set up a google search for the property address and check the internet regularly to see you may find if the address is posted somewhere online. If you know neighbors near the property and you do not live close by, you may want to ask if they can keep an eye on the property – asking them to let you know if there is a sudden influx of people walking the property, a “for sale sign” or other indications that something is different than usual.



Please be careful with potential vacant lot scams. Contact an attorney if you need legal advice.