Friday, January 8, 2021

Weird Robocall from Andrew the House Flipper

Two phone calls a day apart, leaving voicemail messages which are identical.  What is the scam?

Yesterday, Mark gets this voicemail message:

Hey, this is Andrew I guess I got your voicemail.

I'm actually a developer in the area and we just recently finished flipping a house right nearby you.

So, I just want to reach out and see if you were interested at all in selling.

If you are, I'd be happy to make an offer on it.

We're looking to purchase another one before the end of January.

Ahhh, my construction crew is just kind of sitting around right now waiting for the next project

So if I reach out, I can definitely pay all the closing costs and there wouldn't be any commissions, do is as-is and can close pretty quickly.

So if you're interested at all, give me a call I can be reached at: [Sound of edit]  202-968-2172 Thanks.
I get the exact same message the next day.  It is clearly a recording and the phone number is patched in at the end of the call.  I call the number back and get a recording, "Hey, this is Andrew, leave a message!"

I hang up and almost right away, I get a phone call from India telling me there is a lower rate for my Discover card.  A Discover card I don't have.

What is going on here?  Well, I could tell it was a scam from the get-go, and the only reason I called back was to see if I could figure out the scam for this blog entry.  I didn't leave a message, but you can spot these things from 1000 paces.

To begin with, the robo-call.  "Andrew" isn't interested in buying MY house, he is just sending out hundreds of recorded messages.   He has a DC area phone number, which would be plausible if I had a home in the DC area.  My cell phone still has a Northern Virginia phone number, so he uses a spoofed DC number to make it seem legit.  The recording has an audible change when he reads the number in a different tone of voice - or a different person, entirely.

The big stickler - I don't own a "house" anywhere in the DC area, just a condo.  And since they are tearing down the condo in a couple of years, I doubt they are interested in flipping it.

Also, in this market, the demand for home improvements has skyrocketed.  So I doubt he has workers "sitting around" waiting to do work, when everyone is backlogged for months already.  It's a scam, period.

But what kind of scam?  Are they just collecting phone numbers when you call?  Is the call from the "Discover" people related, or just coincidental?  Could be both - they have a primary scam going, but they also sell phone numbers on the side.

Apparently, in Philadelphia, they had a similar scam, only this time with "Will" instead of "Andrew" - they offered to buy houses, apparently hoping to snare someone older who doesn't realize their house has appreciated in value - or so the article claims.

They had someone call "Will" back and claim they wanted to sell their house.  When they described the house and recent renovations, the people at the call center declined to buy it - suggesting that the caller contact a Real Estate agent instead.  So it would seem the scam is aimed at the poor, who may have run-down homes that they can buy cheaply and flip.  Perhaps.   With a robo-call operation, you end up getting a few desperate sellers - after annoying hundreds of thousands of people in the process.

But there are plenty of other scams out there as well - and just harvesting personal information is a scam in and of itself - it can be sold for a profit.   Credit card numbers, for example, for "good faith deposits" or "processing fees" or some such nonsense.

We do get postcards and letters from would-be house-flippers.  I think these are folks who wasted twenty grand going to a "House Flipper" seminar, where the "instructors" taught them to basically use a shotgun approach - send out massive mailings, or in the case of Will and Andrew, robo-calls (I suspect the latter is merely a lead generator for hapless house-flippers, though).

These letters and post cards are at least a little more directed - naming our condo as a property of interest.   I have talked to some of them, but they seem to lose interest when I tell them the whole project is slated to be demolished in short order.  Not much to flip!   I also get numerous calls from Real Estate Agents, who tell me they can get $160,000 from "investors" for the property, although I think they are just cruising for listings.

For Real Estate Agents, if there is a slow day, you cold-call.  You look up the names and addresses of people or use a list compiled or purchased, or even call older customers who might be interested in moving.   We've owned that condo for over 20 years, so it probably looks like a potential sale.   So far, we have decided to hang on to it - the tenant seems happy, particularly since the condo association put in a new kitchen - free of charge - after a water pipe break.  Maybe when she leaves, we'd sell it and use a Starker Deferred Exchange to transfer the basis to another property. Otherwise, we'd have to pay capital gains on the entire purchase price and that would cause us to lose the $20,000 annual Obamacare subsidy (!!!).   Maybe by then, we'll be on Medicare-for-all.  Ha-ha.

I guess you can't blame people for trying.  The letters and postcards from wanna-be house-flippers are sincere - they just don't know what it is they are buying.  The Real Estate Agents?  Well, their "investor" buyer is like the guy who "came into the car dealer the other day, looking for a car just like yours!"  In other words, he doesn't exist.  But little lies like that can get someone into the showroom to buy a new car, or get a listing for a hungry Real Estate Agent.  Lies, yes.  And any business relationship you enter into based on a lie can only go downhill from there.

The other problem with deals like these is that you are getting into a transaction at a time and place not of your choosing.  Grown-ups, when they decide they want to buy a car, compare makes and models, decide on a particular model, and then figure out a reasonable price and shop that make and model on price.   They don't decide to buy a new car because a salesman called them.

Similarly, a grown-up doesn't sell his house over the phone to "some guy" calling - particularly if that "some guy" is a robot.  If you decide you want to sell your home, you find a Real Estate Agent, get the home in best condition to sell, and put it on the market - and wait for offers.  Taking one offer from one person who cold calls you only insures it is a crappy offer.

But you need not analyze all that.  "Andrew" is robo-calling, which is a small lie (he is not talking to you but a recording) and violating the Do Not Call Registry, which is a big lie - a whopper in fact.  And when you call back, you find out there is no Andrew and in fact, all these people are using fake names, spoofed numbers, and likely are not even located in your area.   Lies, lies, and more lies - you expect things to go uphill from there?  Scam-spotting from 1000 paces, at least.

Nevertheless, these things fascinate me, as someone had to think up this scam and they put a lot of effort into it - so much in fact, that it would be easier just to get a real job.  Why not just become a Real Estate Agent? 6% on every sale, with little or no risk to you.  Makes more sense to me.

It is like drug dealers - most barely make minimum wage and still live with their Mothers. I mean, it would be easier to work at Wal-Mart and less risky as well.   But I guess people think that cutting corners is the way to get ahead.  And the people running these scams at the top might be making good money, but of course, they have to keep looking over their shoulder, constantly.

Not worth it!