Real Estate Transaction Hijacking – Keep from Losing your Life Savings!
Updated: Dec 22, 2019
If you are getting ready to purchase a house or will be involved in any kind of real estate transaction, you need to know this information! Over the last year or so, this scam by criminal hackers has become more and more prevalent.
The Federal Trade Commission explains it this way: "Scammers sometimes use emails to rob home buyers of their closing costs and personal information. – Here's how the scam works: hackers break into the email accounts of buyers or real estate professionals to get information about upcoming real estate transactions. The hacker then sends an email to the buyer, posing as the real estate professional or title company. The bogus email says there has been a last minute change to the wiring instructions, and tells the buyer to wire closing costs to a different account. But it's the scammer's account. If the buyer takes the bait, their bank account could be cleared out in a matter of minutes. Often, that's money the buyer will never see again.
If you're buying a home and get an email with money-wiring instructions, STOP. Email is not a secure way to send financial information. Instead:
Contact the company through a number or email address you know is real. Don't use phone numbers or links in the email.
Don't open email attachments, even from someone you know, unless you're expecting it. Opening attachments can put malware on your computer."
If you doubt that this is a common occurrence, then just do a quick internet search about "hackers stealing home down payment" or "hackers stealing real estate agent email." You will get plenty of real life stories to make you take this seriously!
(1) "Hackers prey on home buyers, with hundreds of millions of dollars at stake": www.washingtonpost.com/realestate/hackers-prey-on-home-buyers-with-hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars-at-stake/2017/10/30/0379dcb4-bd87-11e7-97d9-bdab5a0ab381_story.html
(2) "Hacked Homebuyers: Scammers Are Stealing People’s Down Payments" newyork.cbslocal.com/2018/03/01/hacked-homebuyers/
(3) "Stop Scammers From Stealing Your Down Payment" www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/stop-scammers-from-stealing-your-down-payment_us_59f75a74e4b094db8e76f764
(4) "Scammers Stealing Down Payments By Hacking Real Estate Agents' Email Accounts" miami.cbslocal.com/2017/09/20/real-estate-email-hacks/
Here is some advice from a Washington Post article about "How to avoid losing your home settlement funds in a wire fraud":
"1. Never wire funds to anybody or any institution unless you have checked the wire instructions independently with your title company, settlement or closing agent.
2. If you can't or won't confirm the information over the phone, most title companies, settlement companies and closing agents post their wire instructions online, so be sure you check their official websites. If they do, you can compare those instructions with the instructions you received.
3. Some agents will confirm the instructions you received over the phone if you give them the information you received. Just make sure you are talking to the right person at the right place."
One very *simple* step that would go a LONG way in stopping this life-devastating nonsense would be for Real Estate agents (and mortgage brokers and title companies) to implement two-factor authentication (2FA) on all their email accounts. (Even if you don't know what that is, they should be able to do this by talking to their IT people. See here for more info: authy.com/what-is-2fa/ , specifically the section entitled, "2FA To The Rescue.")
This scheme is happening more and more. Please just take steps to ensure you don't lose your life savings.
Just go ahead and ask your real estate agent, loan company, and escrow company if they are using two-factor authentication on their email accounts. Insist that they do! And follow the advice above in the Washington Post article before wiring any money.
Happy Home Buying!