Hackers have made recent headlines for wreaking havoc with our political system. Now, the National Association of Realtors is warning homebuyers to be on the lookout for a new hacking scam—one that could strip them of their down payments and, in some cases, their dreams of homeownership.
In a ruse that’s becoming more prevalent, criminals have begun hacking into insecure email accounts, searching for messages related to real estate transactions. “The hackers then draft fake emails to buyers that appear to come from their real estate agent, title representative or attorney, with instructions to wire down payment money to a fraudulent account,” notes Daily Real Estate News. Once funds go into the wrong account, they are often irretrievable “within minutes,” adds the News.
“It just makes you cry for some of the things that have happened,” one broker told Fox31 Denver.
In a recent fraudulent event, the broker said, a young couple wired $360,000 for the purchase of a new home to the wrong account, after receiving an email with closing instructions and wiring information.
“They had the same letter head and the same salutations [as the title company] on the bottom, but they [hackers] had changed the inside main part of this email to say, send it to this bank, this routing number, this account number,” said the broker.
The couple was alerted to the problem only when they learned that the title company never received the money. Fortunately, the bank’s fraud department was able to freeze the scammer’s account and retrieve the money before it disappeared.
Experts caution buyers to be on guard and to avoid following any instructions sent by email. Instead, they should contact financial institutions or companies directly to verify routing information.
Buyers are also warned not to use the phone number listed in the email to contact these companies, as the phone numbers might also be altered. Rather, they should find the phone numbers on the Internet or in the phone book—or contact their real estate agent.
And some suggest buyers go even one step further than making a phone call. “I am asking them to personally go into the bank and have that banker call and talk to the title company,” noted the broker, who has learned the hard way that when it comes to wiring money, it’s better to be safe than sorry.