Most of the real estate transaction process is now done online and through electronic communication, so it is important for you to be aware of and prepared for the risks of wire fraud. Cyber crimes are increasingly on the rise and we want to make sure your home purchase doesn’t get derailed by a dangerous threat that could keep you from getting the keys, painting walls and decorating. Criminals have stolen money meant for the purchase of homes through malicious wire fraud schemes targeting consumers across the country.
Wire Fraud: The Beginnings
They begin the wire fraud process way before the attempted theft even occurs. Most often, they begin with a common social engineering technique called phishing. This can take the form of email messages, website forms or phone calls to fraudulently obtain private information.
Through seemingly harmless communication, these cyber criminals trick users into inputting their information or clicking a link that allows hackers to steal login and password information.
Uh Oh! They are IN!
Once hackers gain access to an email account, they will monitor messages to find someone in the process of buying a home. Hackers can pose as various parties involved in a transaction, including real estate agents, title companies, attorneys, lender representatives or consumers.
Criminals then use the stolen information to email fraudulent wire transfer instructions disguised to appear as if the information came from a professional you’re working with to purchase a home. If you receive an unsecured email with wiring instructions, don’t respond.Email is not a secure way to send financial information. If you take the bait, your money could be gone in minutes.
Protect Yourself. Be Aware.
Attorneys and title companies have taken many steps to combat this problem, such as putting consumer warnings on websites and communications, securing email communications and sending notices to consumers and real estate agents informing them of the scams. But the criminals are smart and constantly alter their tactics to steal information and money.
Everyone involved in real estate transactions must also be aware of the potential losses as criminals phish for information and stalk home closings, hoping someone makes a mistake. If someone does mess up, it could cost you your new home and even your savings or retirement.
The threat is real. Be prepared.
HERE ARE FIVE TIPS TO PROTECT AGAINST WIRE FRAUD:
1. Call, don’t email. Confirm all wiring instructions by phone before transferring funds. Use the phone number from the title company’s website or a business card.
2. Be suspicious. Title companies DO NOT CHANGE wiring instructions and payment info in the middle of a transaction. If you see this happen during yours it is a huge red flag. Call your title company and confirm the change.
3. Confirm it all. Ask your bank to confirm not just the account number but also the name on the account before sending a wire.
4. Verify immediately. Call the title/escrow company to confirm your funds were received. Fraud can all happen within a matter of a few hours. Again, use the phone number from the title company’s website or a business card. Do not email them.
5. Forward, don’t reply. When responding to an email, hit forward instead of reply and then start typing in the person’s email address. Criminals use email addresses that are very similar to the real one for a company. By typing in the recipients’ email addresses, you will make it easier to discover if a fraudster is after you. DO NOT ACCEPT, REPLY OR FORWARD OPEN PLATFORM EMAILS. i.e. Gmail, Yahoo, Cox, etc.