District Attorney Dan Dow warns against property fraud by impersonators

SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY — District Attorney Dan Dow is issuing a stern warning to real estate professionals and property owners in San Luis Obispo County about a rising real estate scam. 

Criminals, suspected to be part of an organized crime group, are exploiting the trust within the real estate market by impersonating property owners, particularly targeting undeveloped land. This fraudulent scheme has been on the rise, impacting not only local real estate agents but also those from neighboring counties.

The scam involves perpetrators reaching out to real estate agents, both local and non-local, to list properties under the guise of legitimate property owners. These criminals often contact agents from outside the area to complicate detection. In response, the District Attorney’s Office is collaborating with local real estate associations, title companies, and the Office of the County Recorder to combat this growing issue.


Property owners with undeveloped land within San Luis Obispo County are strongly encouraged to perform routine internet searches to verify if their properties are fraudulently listed for sale. By inputting their property address into various real estate marketing websites, owners can quickly identify whether their property is being marketed for sale without their knowledge.

If a property owner discovers their land has been fraudulently listed or sold, they are urged to contact District Attorney Investigator Eric Vitale at (805) 781-5868 for assistance. The District Attorney’s Office also emphasizes the importance of real estate professionals staying vigilant by keeping up with alerts from local associations and ensuring proper vetting of absent sellers of vacant lots.

How the scheme operates:

  • Criminals identify properties without mortgages or liens and assume the identity of the rightful owners.
  • Impersonating the owners, they approach real estate agents to list the property below market value for a quick sale.
  • The criminals prefer cash buyers and readily accept offers.
  • To avoid in-person meetings, they request remote notary signings.
  • The criminals or co-conspirators impersonate notaries, providing fake documents to title companies or closing attorneys.
  • Closing proceeds are inadvertently transferred to the criminals, with all communication occurring electronically.

Detection and prevention:

  • The scam is often discovered during the document transfer phase with the county.
  • Elderly and foreign property owners are particularly vulnerable, lacking automated notifications.
  • Real estate and title companies bear the responsibility of verification.
  • Preventive measures include researching the seller’s identity and requesting in-person or virtual meetings with government-issued identification.
  • Caution is advised when a seller accepts offers well below market value in exchange for immediate cash payment or a swift closing.
  • The use of reputable title companies and attorneys for document exchange and fund transfers is strongly recommended.