If you’re currently in the process of buying a home, you’re at risk to falling victim to one of the quickest growing cyber-crimes in the United States.
It’s a terrifying scenario, it’s the day before you settle on your brand new property. You excitedly head to the bank and wire your funds to what you think is your title company only to find out that you’ve been scammed by a criminal a thousand miles away and your hard earned money is now being transferred around to untraceable off shore accounts.
This kind of sophisticated attack has seen a dramatic increase in the last few years and doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon.
According to an article by the Washington Post, The FBI reported in fiscal year 2017, that nearly $1 billion was “diverted or attempted to be diverted” from real estate purchase transactions and wired to “criminally controlled” accounts.
Wire Fraud is any type of fraud committed by using means of electronic communication. Most commonly, Wire Fraud is committed over the phone or by criminals hacking email accounts.
According to Washington Post contributors, Ilyce Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin, hackers will typically assume the identity of the borrowers, the real estate agent, title agent or attorney. “Once they hack into any of these email accounts, they monitor the emails, waiting for the right time to copy or mimic the owner of the email account to send out fraudulent wire instructions to an unsuspecting home buyer.”
The buyers will then be given fake wire instructions to a criminals offshore account. Sometimes buyers will even be given a phone number to call and confirm the wire instructions. The person on the other end, however, is simply just another accomplice to the crime.
More frequently than not, by the time the buyer finds out that they fell victim the crime, the criminals and the money are long gone.
Realtor.com reports that real estate wire fraud has become such a serious problem that the Federal Trade Commission actually issued a warning.
Robert Siciliano, Security and Theft expert, reported to Realtor.com that “It was just a matter of time until scammers recognized the opportunity to target real estate agents and their clients..” “Currently, most industries that have experienced large data breaches have put systems in place and have become hardened. That means the real estate industry and others become the path of least resistance. ”
The payout for these criminals is immediate and lucrative.
Real estate agents, title companies, attorneys and other professionals in the industry are intensifying their security measures in response to these attacks.
According to Forbes.com contributor Amy Niesen, in 2018 businesses were expected to spend $93 billion enhancing & implementing internet security measures.
Other than spending money on the latest security tools and staying up-to-date on software updates, The FTC provides these simpler yet effective ways to stay protected.
• Don’t email financial information. It’s not secure.
• If you’re giving your financial information on the web, make sure the site is secure. Look for a URL that begins with https (the “s” stands for secure). And, instead of clicking a link in an email to go to an organization’s site, look up the real URL and type in the web address yourself.
• Be cautious about opening attachments and downloading files from emails, regardless of who sent them. These files can contain malware that can weaken your computer’s security.
• Title company agents, attorneys, and real estate agents should issue a notice in their email signatures.
It is also important to educate your employees and clients about common red flags. If you receive an email about a last minute change or that you need to rush your wire, be on alert. This is one the most common techniques for fraudsters.
Buying a home is an exciting time. Educate yourself about the risk of wire fraud, the warning signs, and take the proper precautions so you can ensure a smooth and most importantly, safe settlement process.