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Date of Issue: November 24, 2005

Beware of real estate check scam

European con artists are reinventing an old scam on the Island by sending a check to real estate agents for a rental deposit that is larger than the amount necessary.

The scam begins when the alleged renter e-mails a real estate company that they want to rent a very expensive property. They tell the agent they are sending a deposit check for more than the amount, then ask the agent to cash the check and send the excess funds to another bank or address.

The "con" is that the check is usually stolen, forged or written on a closed bank account and the "renter" is often using a stolen identity. The con artist hopes the agent will cash the check, then send him or her the excess money long before the agent discovers the check is worthless.

The scam first surfaced among Island real estate agencies about a year ago, said Julie Gilstrap-Royal of Suncoast Real Estate Inc.

She recently got a request to rent a "high-end" property in Anna Maria from "Shawn" in London.

The tip-off to the scam, said Gilstrap-Royal, was when Shawn said he was sending a check for more than the required amount and asked her to disburse that extra money elsewhere.

"We knew it was bogus as soon as we saw that part. We've seen this before," she said.

The renter never completes the required application and does not provide a telephone or fax number where they can be reached. The e-mail requests usually originate in Europe with London a favorite location for the sender.

"And they refuse to sign a lease until they get to the Island," Gilstrap-Royal added. "It's just a scam and everyone on the Island should be aware of it."

She notified the Holmes Beach Police Department of the incident and suggested that any other real estate agent or business receiving these letters also contact police.

Berghaus knives

The Berghaus knives scam is new to the Island, but it may not be a scam after all.

According to several reports, a man claiming to be a knife dealer who just attended a trade show has to sell off his high-valued display of Berghaus knives at a huge discount as they can no longer be sold on the retail market.

The seller approached several Island couples and managed a few sales before disappearing.

While the salesman claimed the goods were genuine Berghaus knives and worth 10 times the sales price, the "knives" sold turned out to be of poor quality. The normal retail price of the knives is generally just about what the "scam" artists collect for the sale.

The "scam" has become widespread in Europe and there is now a Web site on the subject. Interested readers can go to robbevan.com or do a search for "Berghaus knives scam" and find more than 90 "victims" who have paid too much for poor quality knives.

There is even a Web site on the scam in German.

However, the Berghaus Knife Company also has a Web site and the company defended its sales practice of often using an independent sales person to market its products.

The knives and other kitchen items the company sells are of "high quality," the Web site claims, and the purchase price is simply what is negotiated between buyer and seller.