You’ve probably seen the warnings on emails you’ve exchanged with your REALTOR®, “PLEASE NOTE CYBERCRIME IS ON THE RISE. Consumers are increasingly at risk for wire fraud and hacked email accounts. Because of this, it is important to exercise caution. Should you receive any form of correspondence with new or revised wiring instructions, misspelled emails, unfamiliar domain names, anything else that seems unusual to you, please contact me immediately,” or something along those lines.
Unfortunately, criminals have devised a way to target people who are in the process of buying a home. By impersonating a real estate, title, or mortgage professional, they send information directly to the home buyer to get them to wire money to an account that’s unaffiliated with the transaction. Generally, the email looks innocent enough and contains wire transfer instructions for a down payment or closing costs. Once the money is transferred, there’s little to no way to recover the funds, usually costing the victim thousands in addition to the new home they thought they were buying.
You don’t have to be a victim. Here are some tips to help keep you safe when buying a home.
- Be suspicious of emails that are sent to you containing wiring or payment instructions. Most title companies avoid this practice.
- Call the person directly, do not email. Instead of replying to an email, or calling any numbers mentioned or linked in the email, call the company (agent, officer, etc.) directly using a known number.
- Forward an email, don’t reply directly to it. When you hit the forward button, type in the known email address. Fraudsters will use an email address that’s similar to the one you’ve been corresponding with. For instance, jsmith(at)thearealtygroup(dotted)com looks very similar to jsmith(at)therealtygroup(dotted)com. In very rare circumstances do the criminals compromise the email account of the real estate professional, but it’s still possible.
- Confirm, confirm, confirm! Check with your bank to verify the name on the account before sending a wire. Then call the title company or real estate agent to validate that the funds were received. The sooner you’re able to identify sending the money to a wrong account, the better chance you have at recovering the misdirected funds.
Most real estate transactions are able to be completed without issues, but it doesn’t mean there’s not a possibility of a bad actor trying to take advantage of a situation. Minimize your risk by being diligent and communicating frequently with your REALTOR®, especially as it pertains to wiring money.