Signs, robocalls — and now parking ticket lookalikes?

People behind “We Buy Houses” campaigns are testing their creativity, as West Philadelphia residents found last week when fliers that look more like parking tickets than ads for a business offering cash for homes were left on dozens of cars stretching across a handful of blocks, according to neighbors.

But it doesn’t appear that much can be done about the “I Buy Houses Cash” fliers, despite their being left illegally — potentially adding to the wide range of ways buyers can prey on vulnerable homeowners in rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods in Philadelphia to gobble up properties for less than they’re worth.

Salma Khan, 35, of West Philly, spotted between 30 and 40 of the fliers along the 4800 block of Hazel Avenue, where she serves as block captain, on Aug. 20.

Khan said she and her husband removed them and contacted 311 because handbills aren’t allowed to be left on vehicles. But the city couldn’t help her.

“It’s upsetting, because I feel like there are these sharks out there that are targeting people who have lived in their homes for a very long time,” she said. “I feel like in general, it’s stealing wealth from the black community.”

Dozens of "I Buy Houses Cash" fliers were left around West Philadelphia last week.
Fae Ehsan / Courtesy
Dozens of "I Buy Houses Cash" fliers were left around West Philadelphia last week.

While the flier appears to mimic a ticket from the Philadelphia Parking Authority, Marty O’Rourke, a PPA spokesperson, said there’s “no reference to the PPA” and therefore the agency can’t take action.

Karen Guss, a spokesperson with the Department of Licenses and Inspections, confirmed that leafleting is prohibited under the city code and comes with a $100 fine if enforced. But that’s where things gets tricky.

“L&I would have to be able to send the violation notice to the responsible party, and whoever distributed these handbills took steps to avoid being identified as such,” Guss said.

The website listed on the fliers, CashBuyPhilly.com? It doesn’t exist. Post office box SELL 2 ME? It’s not a real address. “Cash Buy Philly” and “I Buy Houses Cash” are not registered business names.

A person reached through the phone number by L&I “refused” to give identifying information, Guss said.

The buyer’s intention remains unclear. A person answered the phone Tuesday and was “open” to speaking about the fliers, but scheduled a later time to talk and did not answer subsequent calls. The mailbox for the number was full Wednesday.

The decades-long “bandit sign” issue isn’t going anywhere, with the buyers hard to trace and hold accountable. An Inquirer reporter who dialed 59 numbers found on posters in October 2017 was only able to reach 16 human beings — and only four gave full names.

Christopher Somers, president of the Greater Philadelphia Association of Realtors, called approaches like the fliers “a numbers game,” where would-be buyers cast a wide net and get a handful of calls back. They look to buy homes from uninformed sellers, he explained, through cash-as-is offers, with a promise of no closing costs or commission rates.

In the end, the house is often sold at a price significantly lower than it could otherwise get.

“The tactic, whether it’s online, cash for homes, whether it’s a letter in the mail, whether it’s a flier on cars, it’s the same premise at the end of the day,” he said.

A PPA parking ticket left on a car.
Staff file photo
A PPA parking ticket left on a car.

The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office said it hasn’t received any complaints about this particular flier, but warned residents that “We Buy Homes” signs are often scams targeting people who may need money, and fast.

Rachelle Faroul, 34, of West Philly, plucked the fliers from the 5200 block of Catharine Street, where they were left on about 20 cars, last week. Faroul said she’d spotted the fliers on the block before.

But she didn’t feel the need to report them to anyone, saying she doesn’t have power over the “predators.”

"I do have the power though to do as much as I can to make it difficult for them to accomplish their goal — that being to steal as many homes as possible from Black folks,” she said in a Facebook message.

What to do if you’ve been targeted

When it comes to home-buying scams, it’s easier to prevent than to seek recourse.

Somers, of the Realtors association, recommends those interested in selling their home work with a licensed real estate agent. The association can help sellers find resources and can be reached at 215-423-9381 or gpar.org.

The Attorney General’s Office also encourage those targeted to file a complaint with its Bureau of Consumer Protection online, by emailing scams@attorneygeneral.gov, or by calling 800-441-2555.