Famed bank robber Willie Sutton told a reporter he robbed banks “because that’s where the money is.” Today, he’d conduct wire transfer scams, because that’s one of the easiest ways to currently steal money. Unlike checks or other forms of payment, once a wire transfer goes through, there’s no way to stop or recall the remittance.
Increasingly, hackers are penetrating the real estate industry, making off with funds meant for home buying. Here’s how it works: The buyer receives an email, purportedly from their realtor, lawyer or title company, instructing them to wire settlement money to a certain account. The buyer complies, but the money is actually going to the hacker, deposited in an overseas account and gone for good. Victims have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, ending up ruined financially.
Real Estate Wire Transfer Fraud
If you’re in the process of buying a home, your real estate agent and/or the title company have all the pertinent information regarding your closing date. The hacker breaks into those email accounts, and takes note of individual sale details. He or she learns the name of the seller, buyer and all parties – lender, title company, escrow provider and attorney – involved in the transaction. These hackers are good, and their work is convincing and sophisticated. From viewing the agent’s or other's email accounts, they soon learn to sound like them online. These are not the hackers of past decades with poor spelling and communication skills. Their emails appear to come from the genuine source, and only careful examination reveals they are actually “dummy” accounts.
When the closing date approaches, the hacker moves in for the kill, emailing the buyer to make the wire transfer to a different account. There’s always some excuse about why this is necessary and urgent, perhaps due to some “last minute circumstances” or “technical problems.” If the buyer complies, they are out of luck. The money is gone – and so is the dream of home ownership.
Report Suspicious Activity
If you do receive an email requesting a wire transfer, report it to the bank immediately. Notify whoever reportedly sent the email that their account has been hacked. Contact the Federal Trade Commission and let officials know of this wire transfer scam.
Preventing Wire Transfer Fraud
A hacker can’t steal information that’s not online. That’s the simplest, most effective way to prevent becoming a victim of these thieves. When you need to send personal information to parties involved with the home purchase, do so via courier or phone, or stop by the office. From the outset of any home buying venture, the real estate agent and title company representative should make it clear –in writing – that no email request to wire money will take place. Real estate agents should have informational material available for all clients warning of the wire transfer fraud scam.
Keep Your Computer Secure
It’s never been more important to maintain good computer security, whether in a professional or personal capacity. Change passwords often, don’t open attachments unless you are sure they are legitimate and use up-to-date, high-quality security software. Life on the internet means staying one step ahead of the hackers, and that’s not going to change.
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