Recently, mass wire fraud scams have been happening all over the country and even the world. Wire fraud has repeatedly topped the list as a sophisticated scam that causes consumers to lose millions of dollars each year. With the permanence of technology in our society, it’s likely that wire fraud will continue to claim victims for years to come. To avoid becoming a victim of real estate wire fraud yourself, the best thing you can do is to be properly informed and well prepared.
How Can Wire Fraud Happen?
There are many ways that a hacker can insert themselves into communications and commit real estate wire fraud. But the following are the two most common to be on the lookout for:
- A hacker breaks into a professional’s email account to learn about upcoming transactions. Once they find a victim who’s in the process of buying a home, they’ll send a spoof e-mail that looks like it’s from their agent, title representative, or attorney, and it will have wiring instructions, which includes a fraudulent account. The home buyer will then unwittingly wire funds directly into the hacker’s account. Once they send the money, it’s gone.
- Hackers might also trick the real estate agent into downloading malicious software onto their personal computer, office computer, or phone either through an email or by other means. From there, the hacker has access to all the information that they might need to commit wire fraud.
While these are just two examples of the more sophisticated ways hackers are implementing wire fraud, hacking can also be done by less refined methods such as phone, fax, or inter-office memos.
How to Protect Yourself from Wire Fraud
- Stay aware of your communications. Be sure to check and double check the email address that you are communicating with. Hackers who use spoof email accounts will often switch around one or two letters of your realtors actual email address. If you aren’t paying close attention, you are likely to miss it!
- Use a reputable title company. Your agent will most likely have title companies that they prefer to work with. It’s a smart idea to visit your title company in person. When you are ready to deposit your earnest money, physically bring that check into the title company. At that point, pick up a printed copy of your wiring instructions that you can always refer back to.
- Understand your realtor’s means of communication. From day one you will want to be informed about how your realtor will be in contact with you throughout the real estate transaction. You will also want to know how other parties involved will be communicating with you. Be sure that sensitive information is never sent through email!
- Telephone Verification. On the day of the wire transfer, don’t hesitate to pick up the phone and call the recipient to verify the wiring instructions. Use the phone number that you have been using throughout the entire process. You’ll most likely want to save the contact information of your realtor, the title company, and possibly an attorney the first time that you communicate with them.
- This might seem like common sense, but always use strong passwords and ensure that your agent is doing the same. It also wouldn’t hurt to change your password a few times throughout the transaction process or before wiring instructions are sent.
You can never be too careful when it comes to protecting yourself, your investment and your future. Always make sure that you and your realtor are taking every precaution possible to ensure the secure handling of your real estate transaction.