Imagine spending hour after hour searching for your dream home and finally finding it. But, as you start to complete all the paperwork and get ready to close an urgent email appears in your inbox.
The email appears to be from your agent or attorney or from someone representing the seller urgently requesting for the down payment and other closing costs to be wired today. Everything seems legit: it includes your name, the address of the house, the name of the seller, and the exact dollar amount you were expecting to pay. The from address seems legit and you may have even received a phone call confirming that you received the email.
So, you decide to wire the money to the attached account only to find out the entire transaction was fraudulent…
Although this may seem like a far-fetched scenario, it is not all that uncommon. In 2018 alone, the FBI reported that 11,300 total cases combined for over $150 million dollars in real estate wire fraud.
With everything happening online nowadays, hackers are taking advantage of careless consumer behavior. The above-mentioned example is known as business email compromise. Cyber criminals are able to hack email accounts of certain parties involved in major real estate transactions, gather data, and then create fake email messages. For consumers who are not careful, they can be easily manipulated into sending their funds to fraudulent accounts.
To make sure that you do not become a victim of real estate wire fraud, there are several things you should do to protect your investment.
- Call to verify wire instructions. The first tip is also one of the most important. Any time you are working with a professional title insurance agency like Plymouth Title Guaranty Corporation, you should always call to confirm that the instructions you have received are accurate. In just a few minutes, you can potentially save yourself thousands of dollars along with countless hours aggravation.
- Use secure devices and protected accounts. There are a variety of things you can do to fully protect your online accounts. Popular options include changing passwords frequently, using virtual private networks (VPN), and using encrypted email accounts.
- Pay attention. You might not have been the account that was hacked. Your agent, attorney, or the seller and his or her representatives could have been the victim. Make sure you know the exact contact info for all parties involved. Any mysterious contacts should be questioned before sending money or any other information.
- Use cashier’s checks instead of wiring funds. There are a lot of potential problems with wire transfers. Many title companies will verify cashier’s checks with banks to avoid risks.
- Stay on top of your title company’s wire transfer process. If you are going to use a wire transfer, contact your title company to learn how they handle the process. Do not sit back and wait for a message to appear in your inbox and just go with the flow. Ask for directions and a timeline so you are ready for the transfer when it comes.
- Be patient. If you do get an email, whether mysterious or not, slow down. Call your agent or attorney to double check that it is the right account before sending thousands of dollars away. Be especially patient if the email is demanding the money immediately. If you receive the email at an odd time, such as late at night, on the weekend, or during a holiday, be especially patient as well.
When closing, make sure you are in close contact with your agent and title company. Be patient and double check whenever signing agreements or sending away money. Fraudsters are getting better and better at finding ways to manipulate consumers, so conduct your due diligence to stay protected.
For further information on the real estate industry, get in touch with one of the title and escrow specialists at Plymouth Title Guaranty Corporation.
Please note: The safety of our staff and clients is our highest priority. Effective immediately, Plymouth Title Guaranty Corp. will be taking the following precautions to limit the spread of the COVID-19 virus:
All purchase transactions need to take place at a Plymouth Title Guaranty Corp. closing office
- If a party to the closing is not feeling well, please contact your closer prior to the closing so appropriate precautions can be taken;
- We ask visitors to utilize the restroom in our building upon arrival to thoroughly wash hands before entering our office;
- Only individuals required to sign and/or deliver documents at closings will be allowed in our office. Specifically, closings will be limited to borrower(s), seller(s), agents, and lenders;
- All pens used in the closing will be given to the client after use;
- All closing rooms will be cleaned and disinfected in-between each closing;
- Those picking up checks at our office will be instructed to call our main line and request to speak to a staff member who will make arrangements for delivery to the lobby or parking lot of our office; and
- All staff will refrain from shaking hands before or after closings and ask clients do the same
Please be advised that our staffing may be impacted during this unprecedented event. While we are committed to continuing to provide outstanding service, we ask for your patience in the face of this pandemic.
This is a fluid situation and we will continue to adjust our protocols as necessary while following the CDC guidelines.