Only wire money after verifying wire instructions with a known phone number.
Be extremely cautious of emailed wire instructions.
Criminals are hacking into the email accounts of real estate brokers, escrow agents, mortgage brokers, title companies and others involved in real estate transactions and duping buyers and sellers into sending funds directly to the criminals via wire transfer. The criminal schemes vary but the hackers often send an email that appears to be from an individual legitimately involved in the transaction such as the buyer’s own broker, informing the recipient that there has been a last minute change to the wire instructions and providing new wire instructions. The recipient then wires funds in accordance with the hacker provided wire instructions and the funds are unwittingly sent directly to the hacker’s own account, which is cleared out in a matter of minutes.
This scam and others like it are being perpetrated all over the country on an all too regular basis. Buyers and sellers need to be on alert whenever they are asked to send money to avoid becoming a victim of fraud.
Following are some tips to minimize the risk:
- Immediately prior to wiring any money, call the intended recipient (usually an escrow agent or title company) to verify the wire instructions. Only use a verified telephone number to make this call.
- Deliver funds to the escrow agent or title company via cashier’s check rather than wire transfer.
- Do not trust contact information in unverified emails, even emails that appear to be legitimate. The hackers will recreate legitimate looking signature blocks with their own telephone number and contact information. In addition, the hackers often include links to fake websites to further convince the victims of their legitimacy.
- Never click on any links in an unverified email. These links can lead to fake websites and sometimes contain viruses that make your computer – and your transaction – vulnerable to attack.
- Avoid sending documents containing private financial information over unsecured wifi and email.
- If you receive a suspicious email, call or text the sender at a verified number to confirm they sent the email. In the alternative, do not reply directly to the email but rather send a separate email to the sender to a verified email address confirming that they sent you an email.
- Never trust revised or changed wire instructions. It is very rare for a title company or escrow agent to change wire instructions.