A cautionary tale of real estate fraud: Buyer beware!

There was the tip off. Right in front of my face. How , I wondered, did the victims of this massive real estate fraud not recognize larceny as it stared them right in the face?

But there it was in the article I was reading as it came into full view on my laptop: Said the New York Times, "Mr. Puff drew investors by advertising guaranteed annual returns of 15% to 20% from his business of buying, renovating and reselling real estate."

Really! 15% to 20% annual returns!

That should have been the tip off right then and there. But it wasn't for more than 1,200 investors who, in total, handed over more than $123 million dollars to Wayne Puff's Ponzi scheme .... the investors ended up losing $55 million.

On Thursday, Puff was sentenced to 18 years behind bars in a federal prison and ordered to return more than $100 million to the victims of his scheme.

The FBI offers on its website some common sense tips for avoiding becoming a victim of a Ponzi scheme (and other schemes).

And while real estate values are nowhere near what they were when Mr. Puff (you gotta love that name!) started his con-game back in 1998 ( it lasted till 2005), do not for a minute think there aren't all sorts of con people lurking out there promising a return on real estate investments that should make you run for the door, if not to the feds.

In fact, now that real estate values are depressed, it is a golden opportunity for the crooked among us to try and take advantage of people desperate for a quick return on the buck.

Don't think that would happen now, with the real estate market deflated like a 100-year-old bicycle tire?

Last month, a Michigan woman was busted and accused of defrauding dozens through a real estate Ponzi scheme involving foreclosed properties ,of all things. Foreclosed properties! And, sadly, people, of course, fell for it.

Charles Feldman is a journalist, media consultant, and co-author of the book, "No Time To Think, The Menace of Media Speed and the 24-Hour News Cycle."

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