When a Swiss homebuyer went online recently and spotted a terrace house for sale in Aesch in the canton Basel-Landschaft for just 300,000 Swiss francs, her interest was piqued.
After enquiring about the property, she received a message from someone who gave her name as Catalina Arnal. The woman said she was a Spanish doctor who had lived in the house for a year. She went on to say she had no time to arrange the sale of the house and had handed that task over to an international firm called Partner Real Estate.
The potential buyer was then contacted by a so-called agent who gave her name as Laura Watson and requested a payment of 12,000 francs for a viewing of the house. This was an expression of interest, not a deposit, the intermediary said.
That's when alarm bells rang for the home buyer, according to Swiss news portal 20 Minuten.
She started doing some digging and found out that no one called Catalina Arnal had ever worked at the Basel hospital she claimed to be employed by.
Fake website, real properties
It has since emerged that Partner Real Estate is a fake real estate firm.
However, the firm's website, now taken down, stole the details of actual listed properties from other legitimate websites. The owner of the property in Aesch had no idea that the house was being listed on the Partner Real Estate site.
A spokesperson for cantonal prosecutors in Basel-Landschaft said Partner Real Estate had not done anything illegal by setting up the site and noted it would be very hard for anyone to recover money they had handed over.
The spokesperson warned people to take care when coming across deals that looked like bargains.