Thursday, May 21, 2009

Scammers targeting Rio Grande Estates?

I've gotten two calls in less than a month from out of state owners of lots at Rio Grande Estates. Granted, two isn't exactly a trend but I expect more.

First off, Rio Grande Estates (which I'll now call "RGE") is a development partly in Socorro County, partly in Valencia County that was platted and sold about 50 years ago. Hundreds of relatively tiny lots in the desert. Apparently, the developers sold their "New Mexico Ranches" mostly out of state, mostly sight unseen with promises of major infrastructure improvements and massive area growth that would make this the place to be. Didn't quite happen. I understand it still looks very much like it did 50 years ago. I've never been out there myself and don't plan to.

Back to my callers. Caller number one bought her acre or two with her husband when they got married 48 or 49 years ago. It was their first investment together. Last year, they had been contacted by a man who said he had a buyer for their lots. This buyer was going to give them many, many thousands for their little parcel. Man says buyer is out of the country and he just needs $300 or so to make the deal happen (Advertising? Mailing fees? My caller was unclear as to what this money was for.) They sent the money and sadly, the deal "fell through". The $300 is lost.

The man must have been a smooth talker because, months later he calls again. He has another buyer. Just needs that fee again. Ever-hopeful husband sends the check. Wife begins to worry and decides to see what she can find out. That's how I ended up talking to her. I don't know if she was able to stop-pay that check but if she didn't, that money is gone, too.

Caller number two hadn't gotten that far with the "deal" but he had been approached by a man who said he wanted to buy his couple acres for a similar price.

I can't say what these lots are worth because I am not a licensed appraiser. I'm also not comfortable saying what these people told me they were offered. I will say that anyone who owns lots at RGE or knows someone who does ought to read Fred Bernstein's article that was published in the New York Times in 2005. You can read it on Mr. Bernstein's website here . I believe someone is targeting owners of these lots who are out of state and have had them for decades and getting a few hundred bucks from each one they can hook. I don't believe there any buyers out there willing to pay what these people were "offered" when you can pick up lots at the county auction for minuscule back taxes.

I doubt if the owners will read this, mostly being of pre-internet age, but I do hope their concerned relatives will.

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