Being a victim of wire fraud can be devastating – the funds, once sent, are almost always irretrievable. Real estate is a prime target for cyber-criminals. Home buyers, home sellers, mortgage brokers, attorneys, title companies and real estate professionals are ALL reporting theft via wire fraud.
Here’s how it works: Criminal/hacksters target email accounts involved in a real estate transaction, looking for information of an impending purchase or sale, knowing monies will soon be transferring between parties. Their ruse is to then “plant themselves” in those email communications, disguised as a legitimate entity involved in the transaction, with the intent of sending phony wiring instructions to their victims. Their emails are very convincing and sophisticated.
SO … How can YOU protect yourself when buying or selling a home?
- Being aware that you may be a target is key to protecting yourself from fraud. By educating yourself on the danger, you’re much more likely to identify suspicious activities that are utilized by hackers.
- Title and settlement companies should send you instructions on your wire transfer through a secured service, not just through an email. Be sure that you clearly understand the wiring instructions for your transaction and ensure that you’re getting that information from a verified source. Many will also have their standard procedures posted on their websites. Another precaution would be to simply make a phone call to the settlement company handling your closing to speak directly with a legitimate professional to verify the information. DO NOT CALL the number listed at the bottom of the instructions in the suspicious email as it would likely be bogus, as well. Better yet, being handed the actual written wiring instructions by someone at the closing company, is the BEST possible scenario.
- If something feels wrong or fishy, it probably is! For instance, if you’re sent a message requesting a partial payment OR notifying you of a change in the deadline for your transfer OR detailing a new procedure for your wire, DO NOT DO anything without talking to your settlement or closing company first. Last minute changes are BIG RED FLAGS!
- Never trust wiring instructions via regular email
- Do not click on any links that may be in the suspicious email and do not reply to it
- Refrain from placing any sensitive personal and financial information in an email or in an attachment
- When there is a need to share social security numbers, bank accounts, credit card numbers, wiring instructions or similar sensitive information, utilize more secure means, such as providing the information in person, over the phone, or through secure mail or package services, whenever possible.
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Be sure to check out our next BLOG POST on March 8th.
Until then… it’s all about YOU!