Scam artists are increasingly targeting real estate transactions as a way to steal money, so it’s important to be aware of the common scams that exist and to take great care throughout the closing process. Common scams involve email hacks or emails and calls to people involved in a real estate transaction in which the caller pretends to be the title company or the real estate agent associated with the sale. Fraudsters have gotten increasingly more sophisticated, and as such, emails and calls can seem authentic.
In another possible scam, a seller’s proceeds are delivered by check, but then the title company gets an email claiming the seller wants the funds wired and the check torn up. In reality the “Realtor” requesting the wire isn’t the Realtor at all, but a scammer. Sadly, many people have fallen victim to these scams, as fraudsters steal their funds, sometimes thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars. More, some would-be homebuyers lose out on the opportunity to purchase their home while the cyber crooks get away with their money, fast.
According to thinkglink.com, the most common way scammers learn someone is going to wire money is by hacking an email account for the closing agent, the broker or the real estate attorney. Then, they watch emails and learn how to create an authentic-looking and sounding communications from the hacked account. When they are ready, they’ll send the victim an email or call with instructions on how to wire the money…straight to their account.
So, how can you protect yourself from wire fraud? Here are some steps.
- Use a secure email platform. Free email providers place you at high risk for getting hacked.
- Protect your passwords. Don’t write them down, don’t make them simple or obvious. And change them regularly.
- Don’t wire funds to anyone unless you’ve independently checked the information and instructions with your title company, closing agent or settlement company. And of course, never wire funds to people you don’t know.
- Check official websites for wire instructions if you can’t confirm the information in person or over the phone with the appropriate agencies.
- Make sure you are talking to the appropriate person at the appropriate agency over the phone.
- If you receive an email, call or text message, make sure it’s from a trusted source. This can be tricky. Fraudsters may only change the email address slightly—so look closely, ensure they are the same, or start a new email with the address you have on record, or call instead to ensure you are reaching the right person.
- Review your financial statements regularly. Keep a close eye on all accounts including your bank accounts and credit card statements. This is a good practice to get into regardless of whether you are closing on a property.
Think You’ve Been a Victim of Wire Fraud?
Working with a title company you know and trust can add an extra layer of security to your real estate transaction; so choose your title company with care.
If you believe you have been a victim of wire fraud, the FBI recommends you ask your bank to contact the financial institution where the wire was sent; contact the local FBI office and file a complaint with the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center.