Unreal Estate
May 5, 2015 4:12 PM   Subscribe

Can you help me figure out why a random realtor keeps mailing me letters claiming to know my dad? And what is the best thing to do in response?

Last month I received a letter from a local realtor addressed to, let's say, "Ms. [My Middle Name] Rattery." The gist of it was that he claimed to be an old friend of my father and was extending an offer of "help" related to buying/selling property for my dad. Trust me: my father has no friends--certainly not this man (I checked!), and there's no way he would give out my (partially incorrect) contact info to anyone. I just assumed it was a ploy to lure a credulous mark and tossed the letter.

Tonight I received another letter, addressed the same way, with a print out of a real estate listing "next door to my father's unit at [address]" that recently sold for a handsome sum. Ha! Obviously my father doesn't live there or even in the same city (and as if I care about his real estate prospects anyway...steer your own ship, man!).

Now I am hooked....on curiosity!

I'm assuming that this man is:
a) an idiot
b) a con man
c) both

My surname is not very common, and I'm very new to this area anyway, so it's unlikely this dude made an honest mistake. But I have so many questions!

--How did he get my address? Why is my name only half right?
--Why does he think I wouldn't notice he is totally fabricating a relationship with my father? And why would he think that anyone, upon realizing he is a liar, then want to enter into a business transaction with him? (I googled his name but didn't find anything suspicious.)
--How do I tell the guy to eff off without divulging my actual contact info? Mr. Rattery suggested emailing him, but I don't want him to have my email and actual name.
--Is there any way this is a legitimate thing? I only ask because my plan is to contact the Canadian Real Estate Association and complain but don't want to look like an idiot if this is, in fact, remotely above board (but really--it can't be, right?).

On the scale of actual Life Importance, this whole thing ranks somewhere between "the grocery store is out of my favourite pickles" and "I had to wait 25 minutes to return a purchase at the hardware store." But I'm just so fascinated by this whole thing and am motivated only by the quest for knowledge (and also vengeance, because I am petty).
posted by Mrs. Rattery to Law & Government (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe someone with your dad's name died recently and this guy things you're likely responsible for selling the property? So the basic set up would be:

1. Get recent deaths from obits
2. Check property records to see if they owned any.
3. If they did, comb whatever lists of people they can buy from marketers for likely next of kin.
4. Contact.
5. Get the listing and profit.

Obviously somewhere in the process names and contact info were mismatched, so your dad isn't the dead buy and the unit in question is not your dad's unit.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 4:20 PM on May 5, 2015 [5 favorites]

How do I tell the guy to eff off without divulging my actual contact info?

Go there in person with a bunch of buddies, slam the last letter on his desk and tell him to stop?
posted by Namlit at 4:30 PM on May 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is the kind of guy I wish would get caught. Can you talk to law enforcement?
posted by ReluctantViking at 4:32 PM on May 5, 2015

You can look up addresses online and see the name of the owner + associated family members who have lived at that address with their approximate ages. A lot of times this information is close but not quite right. It can also be woefully out of date. One entry when you look up my parents' address (where I haven't resided for over a decade) lists me as a resident along with my mom and dad and brother and thinks I'm a teenager. Another entry thinks we have an additional 40 year old family member living with us named Herb. This is all just out there with a simple google, despite my parents' house never having been listed for sale. I imagine a realtor has access to an even more robust search engine.

So my guess is this guy is shadesville and is trying to drum up customers by throwing some shit at a wall and seeing what sticks.

Sales folks get up to all kinds of fun tricks with stuff like this. When I moved to a new apartment several years back I got unsolicited mail for months from insurance agents and realtors, all written in Korean. I'm not Korean but my last name is Lee, and I suspect that some enterprising info scraper got my name from some change of address form I filled out and sold it to a Korean business list or something. And so I started getting mail from folks banking on the chance that I'd see a friendly letter in a friendly language and feel comfortable doing business with him.

In short, I would bet upwards of several dollars that this guy is completely full of crap and this is just one of his tactics he uses to get new customers.
posted by phunniemee at 4:32 PM on May 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

There's a just-so explanation for 419 scams that says they always lead with poorly spelled and frankly unbelievable premises in order to filter out anybody with critical mental faculties early. You, as a person who asks questions and thinks before seeing dollar signs, would inevitably bail before this con-man would finish bilking you out of large sums of cash if the premise were more plausible, but after he has wasted time trying to convince you to sign property over to him or pay administrative fees. That cuts into time he could be using to scam someone more gullible.
--How did he get my address?
Maybe out of the phone book, maybe from a direct mail database, no way to know.
Why is my name only half right?
That direct mail database could have been incorrect, or because this is an intentionally shitty scam this is just another way of bleeding off skeptics early, or who knows.
--Why does he think I wouldn't notice he is totally fabricating a relationship with my father? And why would he think that anyone, upon realizing he is a liar, then want to enter into a business transaction with him? (I googled his name but didn't find anything suspicious.)
The scammer probably knows nothing about your father except his name and that you are related, which since you said your surname is uncommon could probably be guessed out of the phonebook. Actually, do the letters even contain his name? It's all just set dressing for working in sold for a handsome sum to the letter. Non-critical people who are desperate or greedy will overlook the errors and reply anyway, fixating only on the opportunity for large sums of money.
--How do I tell the guy to eff off without divulging my actual contact info?
If you feel the need to, send a reply letter without a return address or your name on it. You won't be able to stop these letters though without confirming that you exist and that you are reading them, so the attempts will probably only become more pernicious. I would recommend you immediately trash these as soon as you recognize them, just like you would e-mail spam.
--Is there any way this is a legitimate thing?
posted by books for weapons at 4:33 PM on May 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh and as for what to do I would just ignore it.
posted by phunniemee at 4:33 PM on May 5, 2015 [6 favorites]

I think this sounds like a national operation mining a combination of public records and possibly background-check-type private databases, matching up -- in your case -- adult children of parents in their 60s and 70s with "houses recently sold near parents' address," writing a shitty faux-personal-touch letter, and selling this as a low-cost prospect-mining scheme to local Realtors.

To be cost-effective you'd probably either have to be doing it by hand for small local areas you knew well, or churning them out nationally for a huge variety of target combinations. But once you've decided on your target population ("children of parents who might want to put them in nursing homes and not want to deal with long-distance home selling!"), it takes all of ten minutes to write the creepy letter that the database will populate.

I get things sort-of like this from time to time, from shady local realtors and also home security companies, that combine recent local events (especially crime data) with personal information from public databases and a folksy, creepy "I am actually a local businessperson who knows you personally!" tone. Adding your parent's info is a nice ("nice") touch.

I usually just get an icky feeling and ignore them, but I actually think even if it IS totally legit, you should complain, because unethical advertising (even if legal) reflects badly on their profession, and the professional regulating body should be complained to so that they'll exert pressure on their members to stop it.

Definitely don't contact him directly -- if he's datamining, that just tells him the data's good; if he's a creepster, that just encourages him.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:40 PM on May 5, 2015 [3 favorites]

In the movie movie Paper Moon, Ryan O'Neal scans the obituaries for the name of a recently deceased man and his widowed wife. He then embosses a bible with the wife's first name, drives to her house and knocks on the door.
posted by alms at 7:13 PM on May 5, 2015

He just bought a mailing list and sends the same lies to everyone on the list. Just put it in the recycling and find something else to worry about.
posted by littlewater at 9:09 PM on May 5, 2015 [2 favorites]

He bought a set of names off a database somewhere and has form letter (mail merged) sent to everybody on the list. Don't worry about it. Just toss it.
posted by kschang at 4:49 AM on May 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

Send him a warm letter thanking him for reaching out to you. Assure him that there is nothing to be sold at this time, but, since he wants to be helpful, all friends and family have come together to help fund something or another and, since he is such a good friend, he can mail a check directly to you. :)
posted by myselfasme at 6:10 AM on May 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Marketing people are gonna market but this is really crossing the line. I would post a negative review for the real estate company on Google or Yelp and name the guy in question, and I would file a complaint with BBB as well. Your review is not going to put this unethical marketer out of business but your low rating and the BBB complaint will contribute negatively to the company's online search rankings, which these companies tend to monitor quite closely. The BBB complaint alone may cause the real estate company to call up the guy and tell him to quit marketing that way. 15 minutes of easy online effort on your part and you will save some trees and potential anguish to your neighbors some of whom are probably getting contacted about their beloved deceased parents.
posted by rada at 8:39 AM on May 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

--How do I tell the guy to eff off without divulging my actual contact info? Mr. Rattery suggested emailing him, but I don't want him to have my email and actual name.

Make a throwaway email address of Middlename.Lastname123@gmail and have at it. Maybe tell shady realtor your dad wants the $2,000 he lent him back.
posted by mikepop at 10:24 AM on May 6, 2015 [2 favorites]

Clarification: these realtors search property records, and they get the names and address off of that. "Recently sold" stuff is the same, those are public record. This is basically a "cold call", albeit via snail mail.

If you want to be REALLY discouraging, go ahead and file complaints and whatnot with BBB, Yelp, AngiesList, as well as by snail mail.

Though personally, I'd reseal the envelope, mark it "RETURN TO SENDER: NO SUCH PERSON AT THIS ADDRESS" and toss it back into mailbox and let him pay for postage again to get the rejection.
posted by kschang at 10:32 AM on May 6, 2015

You cannot return to sender, no such person at this address if you really live there.
posted by Michele in California at 10:49 AM on May 6, 2015

You cannot return to sender, no such person at this address if you really live there.

The letter wasn't addressed to the OP. The letter was addressed to someone with a similar name. No person with that name lives there. I've gotten rid of harassing companies who didn't know my name with "Sorry, wrong number" and "Return to sender."
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:18 AM on May 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

If you think it's a scam, take it to the post office and say so. They may investigate, and may protect some people who are not as smart as you.
posted by theora55 at 11:19 AM on May 6, 2015

That said, doesn't the post office eat the cost of this rather than billing the original sender? I don't think the sender would bother to pay postage to pick up the letter, if the post office did say it was "postage due" anyway.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 11:20 AM on May 6, 2015

This happened soon after my mom's memorial service. Two handwritten letters (no professional or real estate company info) asking "Can I buy your house?" My dad is not selling his house anytime soon. The letters were from complete strangers upstate.

More annoying were similarly handwritten letters from religionists inviting us to meet with them and discuss the PROMISE OF ETERNAL LIFE (no kidding, in caps).
posted by bad grammar at 2:28 PM on May 6, 2015 [1 favorite]

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