Nigerian princes have been promising me millions since I first signed up for email back in the late 1990s, and ever since, it seems like scam artists turn to increasingly complicated rouses. The never-ending stream of robocalls, online phishing scams and Facebook hackers have us all on high alert.
It's why a recent letter that landed in many farmers' and landowners' mailboxes raised a red flag. Brothers Land Group sent out letters to property owners across the Midwest, saying that "In many situations, we can deliver a cashier's check to your door in as little as three days for the purchase of property." The purchase letter also includes detailed information, like the legal identifier for the property, and offers to pay a lump sum that seems sizeable on its own, but doesn't make sense when you do the math on the acreage.
Maria Cox posted a picture of the letter to her farm's Facebook page, and it quickly went viral. The letter offered the equivalent of $700 per acre for a piece of her family's Greene County, Illinois, farm. As she notes in her post, it's well below fair market value, which she estimates at $2,500 an acre for timber ground and $6,000 to $9,000 for tillable land, depending on quality.
Cox said the letter made it to most of the farmers and landowners in the county and was the topic du jour at a recent local Farm Bureau meeting. It included just enough information to make people uncomfortable and concerned elderly neighbors or those not that didn't read the fine print could be swindled.
Her Facebook post has been shared more than 135 times. Many of the commenters said they got a chuckle out of it and threw it in the trash. Others said the amount offered was offensive. (You can read the thread for yourself here: https://www.facebook.com/… )
But is it a scam?
The letter has a legitimate mailing address, website and even a Facebook page. The signee, Gavin Aasen, is a real person, with verifiable public records. He even returned my phone call -- identified by a caller ID app that I use to filter out those never-ending robocalls.
His company, Brothers Land Group, is a real estate wholesaler, which means it purchases land for below market value, marks it up and then resells it. It primarily deals in vacant properties, timberland and pasture.
"Our typical customer would be someone who's been collecting properties for over a lifetime and decided they just want out," Aasen told me. "Instead of putting stuff on the MLS and waiting two, three, four, sometimes five years to sell it off, we'll buy it at a good price and quickly turn it over, mark it up a little bit, and get someone else a good deal."
The company uses a real-estate data service that compiles records from county assessor offices to generate its pitch letters. The purchase agreements have the property's legal description on them, which is a matter of public record, but it was enough detail to catch recipients in farm country off guard.
"I know we've gotten quite a bit of blowback from the Midwest states and with cropland and stuff like that," he said. "We wouldn't be opposed to buying it, but we don't expect to get tillable crop land in the business model we've got, just knowing that it does have such great value. And if somebody really needs money, they could take that cropland and get a loan using it as collateral and that would just make more sense."
Aasen said it's hard to filter out tillable cropland in its data searches, and in some cases, tillable land is a small component of a property that otherwise meets its search criteria. The company occasionally does pick up a piece of land with tillable acres, although it's usually small, such as four out of 80 acres.
But is he targeting farmland?
"Oh, no. Absolutely not. No way. I've got to sleep at night," he said. "We go into any deal looking at it as we're providing a service. If somebody is, they kind of have to be in a special circumstance where it doesn't make sense to list it with a realtor or a broker. We kind of clean up their mess for them and take the stress out of their lives."
For example, a recent client had owned a piece of land for 20 years and was delinquent on his taxes. He was just going to forfeit the land to the county. Instead, Brothers Land Group bought the property, helped straighten out the back taxes and resold it.
So, is it a scam? No. They're looking for distressed or difficult to sell properties. Brothers Land Group spent a lot of money on direct mail targeting land it has no realistic shot at buying or a desire to buy. Only Aasen and others at his company know if the leads it generated are worth the number of phone calls from angry and offended farmers.
Aasen said they send multiple letters to each county. So, if you've already received one and don't want any more, you can opt out. Each letter has a reference number, and if you call or email them with that information, they'll take you off their mailing list. Or you can let Brothers Land Group foot the bill for postage and keep throwing the letters in the trash.
Moral of the story: Whether it's a scam or not, think twice about the promises of quick cash, and whether it's worth your time and effort to be paid what your asset's worth.
Keep those scam radars up! Who knows what they'll think of next.
If you're looking at for more information on how to identify scams, particularly those targeted at the elderly, the AARP has a number of resources. You can find them here: https://www.aarp.org/…
Katie Dehlinger can be reached at Katie.firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Katie Dehlinger on Twitter @KatieD_DTN
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