Cyberfraud is on the rise! Targets are Realtors, title companies, lenders and even the general public. All parties to a real estate transaction need to be aware of the signs and how to protect themselves and their hard-earned money.
Criminals are hacking into the email accounts of real estate agents or other persons involved in a real estate transaction and using information gained from the hack to dupe a party into a fraudulent wire transfer. The hackers often send an email that appears to be from an individual legitimately involved in the transaction, informing the recipient, often the buyer, that there has been a last minute change to the wiring instructions. Following the new instructions, the recipient will wire funds directly to the hacker’s account, which will be cleared out in a matter of minutes. The money is almost always lost forever.
In May 2015, NAR issued an alert regarding a sophisticated email wire fraud hitting the real estate industry. Since then, the incidents of online scams targeting practitioners have continued to rise but the advice is the same.
Bottom line: Do not let your guard down. Start from the assumption that any email in your in-box could be a targeted attack from a criminal.
1. NEVER trust an unknown email source. If it looks suspicious DO NOT open it. Pick up the phone and call your Realtor or title company directly. Always talk to someone you recognize and never send sensitive information in an email unless it is encrypted.
2. When you receive instructions via email, confirm them by phone or in person, and at the risk of stating the obvious, don’t use any of the contact info in the email. Some very committed hackers will even put up legitimate looking websites. Call someone you’ve already spoken with in person, or for that matter, drop by.
3. Immediately prior to wiring any money, the person sending the money must call the intended recipient to verify the wiring instructions. Only use a verified telephone number to make this call.
4. Do not trust contact information in unverified emails. The hackers will recreate legitimate-looking signature blocks with their own telephone number. In addition, fraudsters will include links to fake websites to further convince victims of their legitimacy. Never click on any links in an unverified email. In addition to leading you to fake websites, these links can contain viruses and other malicious spyware that can make your computer – and your transactions – vulnerable to attack.
5. Stay on the alert even after the closing. You may receive an email offering to send you a copy of the deed on your recent closing for a specific amount of money. THIS IS A SCAM!! Call your Realtor directly to report this but DO NOT send any money. You will receive a copy of the deed either at closing or after it has been recorded.
6. The best advice is to always talk to your Realtor or title company whenever you are not sure about something. Too many unaware buyers and sellers have lost their life savings because of these hacksters. Don't be one of them.