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CONTACT: Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto
Leah Simon-Weisberg, leah@clsepa.org
(650) 326-6440 x 306 office


An emergence of a concerning scam targeting homeowners is becoming more prevalent throughout Silicon Valley and the Peninsula. Homeowners are receiving hand-written offers to buy their home, with an unsigned check from a fictional bank. The check is enclosed to suggest that the sender is “serious” about the offer.

This scam was discovered when several East Palo Alto and Menlo Park homeowners came to Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto (CLSEPA) for assistance and advice. One family was confused about the offers made to them and concerned they were being targeted. “We are very concerned to learn about this type of scam and we are working hard to inform the public so other homeowners in vulnerable situations are not taken advantage of,” stated Leah Simon-Weisberg, managing attorney of the Anti-Predatory Lending and Home Mortgage Foreclosure Prevention Practice at CLSEPA. “We have noticed that many of the homeowners being targeted for the scam are non-English speaking.”

The language used in these offers is very friendly and informal. The sender addresses the letter to the homeowner’s home address and uses his first name to create a personal effect. The sender also assures the targeted homeowner that he is “not an attorney, mortgage person or loan modification company.” The sender then leaves his personal phone number where he can be reached. To prove that the sender is being completely serious about his offer he adds “We have included this – [enclosed check] so that you know we are serious about your house…please call us today.”

What is most concerning about these hand-written offers and fake checks is that the senders are licensed and active real estate agents. These agents are preying on homeowners with the apparent intent of purchasing their homes for below market prices and illegally exploiting. “The agents are targeting people who are in desperate situations and are willing to sell their homes at drastically reduced prices, some for as low as $10,000. It is illegal for real estate agents to be participating in this kind of marketing,” commented Jennifer Tasto, 2010 President of the San Mateo County Association of REALTORS (SAMCAR). This kind of marketing is illegal because, as insincere offers, the advertising is false. This is also criminal behavior because the agents are distributing fraudulent checks for a substantial sum (some up to $5,000).

It seems likely that these real estate agents are preying on homeowners who are facing foreclosure. “These financial problems make homeowners more vulnerable to these kinds of scams,” stated Leah Simon-Weisberg.

Another issue for the targeted homeowner is that he or she may end up owing their bank money if they manage to cash the fake check. Consumers, instead of the scam artists, are the ones held liable when checks turn out to be fraudulent. If the consumer is unable to pay the remaining balance or cover the cost, banks may take action and file lawsuits against the consumer.

Homeowners should be cautious when receiving unsolicited offers for their home. It is important to note that these real estate agents have access to sensitive information they are able to access via special listing websites. Homeowners should not take this knowledge as proof that they are legitimate or straightforward. Also, although the checks appear legitimate, they are usually unsigned and have “National American Bank,” a nonexistent bank, as the provider. Homeowners should be weary of prospective buyers who contact them through the mail and make offers that seem too good to be true. “If people have received or been victims of this type of abuse, please contact CLSEPA,” noted Leah Simon-Weisberg.

Leah Simon-Weisberg
Managing Attorney

Anti-Predatory Lending and Foreclosure Prevention Practice
Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto
2117-B University Ave
East Palo Alto, CA 94303

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