You’ve just walked through each home listing in your desired neighborhood, and you’ve found the home you want to buy. You’re about to be the proud buyer of your first home. You bid your agents a good afternoon and head home.
It’s after midnight, and your phone dings. You open your email to find your real estate agent demanding an immediate wire transfer for the closings costs on the home along with wiring credentials. It might seem natural to immediately pay the balance, but DON’T do it.
Your real estate agent has likely been hacked. Fraudsters have hacked your agent’s email to steal your down payment and closing costs through a fraudulent phishing scam.
Similar phishing scams cost victims almost $30 million in 2017, according to the FBI’s 2017 Internet Crime Report. Over 4,000 Missourians were victims of fraudulent title transactions last year alone.
Know the facts to stay safe in the digital age when wiring a real estate title transaction transfer.
HOW IT HAPPENS
Fraudsters target realtors and real estate agents because they know these agents are handling large-sum transactions. Agents sometimes use free email services, such as Gmail or an AOL account, to email their clients. These email services are easily hackable. If an agent is conducting business over an unsecured network, fraudsters can also hack into an agent’s email. The hacker then forwards email chains to their own personal email.
The fraudster sifts through these email chains on the look-out for upcoming title transactions. Right before a transaction is set to close, the fraudster creates an illegitimate email address that closely resembles that of a realtor or agent’s.
While impersonating an agent, the fraudster sends an email to the buyer or seller immediately demanding a wire transfer for the payment. The fraudster includes their own wiring credentials, not those for the realtor or title company, and typically requests secrecy from the victim.
HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF
It’s important to know the signs of a potential phishing scheme so that your agents and you can stay safe. Pay special attention to the email addresses of all emails. The hackers create email addresses that are missing a letter or two from your agent’s. Check the verbiage for misspellings and incorrect grammar. Be wary of emails you receive outside of your real estate’s typical business hours. Pay dues with cashier’s or certified checks in lieu of wire transfers.
Only use a secure network when emailing businesses. If you’re unsure if a site is secure, make sure the URL begins with “https;” the “s” stands for secure. Change your Wi-Fi settings to prompt you before connecting to unsecured networks. When logging into your device, set up a two-step authentication process before signing in to your email. Regularly update your operating system’s antivirus software. If you’re a realtor or real estate agent, don’t conduct business over your Gmail account.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU’RE A VICTIM
If you receive a phishing call, text or email requesting funds, immediately call your agents to confirm the payment. Once the money leaves your account, you might not be able to get your money back. Contact your bank or financial institution to alert them of the fraudulent payment and freeze your account.
Monarch Title will be open, honest and will do our best not to let this type of situation happen. We always use a secured server with encryption. But if you’re concerned, call our office immediately. We can send wire instructions via email but only when requested from a trusted source and through an encrypted email. Your digital safety is our biggest concern.