Wire Fraud in Real Estate
What to know when buying a home
Imagine spending months trying to buy a home, and finally purchasing the perfect one only to find out at the closing table your funds never made it, they are gone– that they vanished due to wire fraud. Imagine selling your home only to find out a wire fraud hacker created a fictitious email and contacted the attorney to redirect your proceeds to their account instead of yours? It happens, a lot.
Wire Fraud: What is it?
Wire fraud is when someone obtains money based on false representation or promises. As con-artists become more sophisticated and tech-savvy, parties involved in real estate closings are regularly being targeted with wire fraud scams. These parties include buyers, sellers, realtors, and closing attorneys.
How is it done?
Most recently, the scams have focused on hacking into e-mail accounts of the parties involved in the transaction. Con-artists can gain unauthorized access to third-party e-mail accounts when just one party involved in the transaction fails to utilize e-mail encryption software. The frauds break into either the Realtor’s or the client’s email and secretly follow what is going on.
Assume that the buyer, buyer’s Realtor, seller’s Realtor, buyer’s attorney, and the seller’s attorney are all involved in an e-mail chain concerning the particulars of the closing. These emails would likely include sensitive information, such as wiring information, closing figures depicted on the settlement statement, and names/contact information. Now assume that just one of the parties involved in this e-mail chain failed to use encryption software. With the assistance of readily available computer software, a con-artist can easily intercept the entire chain of emails from any individual who replies to or forwards an email without using encryption software. Now, the criminals have everything they need to engage in wire fraud.
How do I avoid it?
Criminals are posing as attorneys with a similar email address to send fake wire instructions to clients. Therefore, the safest practice is to go to the closing attorney’s office in person and pick up your wire instructions. Sometimes, the fraud will pose as the attorney and contact the sellers to ask where they’d like their proceeds sent, and intercept them. In both cases, the money is wired to a bank account that belongs to the fraud. At this point, the funds are usually beyond reach of the correct banks or the FBI, well before the scam is even discovered.
Sellers should always bring a voided check to closing. Sellers should also verify when the wire is being sent and if it was received.
If you are involved in a real estate purchase, you should take steps to ensure that you don’t become a victim of wire fraud by verifying that you and the professionals representing you are using encrypted email software. If you receive anything fishy or out of sorts do not email back. Call the correct number your Realtor should have, or that is on letterhead to verify.
What if it happens to me?
Many individuals and law firms have fallen victim to these scams, which have resulted in the victims going bankrupt and law firms and real estate companies going out of business. If you are an attorney, Realtor or other professional involved in the real estate closing, and one of these scams succeeds due to your failure to utilize encrypted email, you can expect for the victim to look to you for reimbursement.
What does wire fraud look like?
These scammers are getting very good at scamming to gather your information with texts, phone calls and emails. Remember, rarely will a company call and ask for your social or credit card over the phone. You are better off hanging up and calling back the main number that is correct. Be wary of Google. They might take a phone number for GODADDY and change one digit in their phone number. So, the person who quickly glances to ensure it is correct will be mistaken.
What does fraud look like? It comes in many different forms. Have you received one of these texts or emails?
Stay safe out there! If you ever have any questions or concerns involving the real estate process, contact me! I am always here to help.