Buyers and Sellers Beware: Hackers are looking to steal your hard-earned money!

“Buying a home should be an exciting event, but sadly an email and money-wiring scam is underway targeting consumers’ sensitive financial information.
We’re working with the Federal Trade Commission to shine a bright light on that
criminal activity and help protect prospective homeowners.”
Tom Salomone, President of the National Association of Realtors

“I’ve been hacked!”

Nobody wants to think it will happen to them. Faceless enemy’s sneaking into their computer and stealing not just their identity, but their hard-earned cash. And the new victim? Real estate buyers and sellers.

How do they do it?

Unfortunately, very easily. Brazen hackers have devised simple ways to hack real estate agents, escrow and lender email accounts, and then by monitoring the transaction and duplicating emails, they can easily have your deposit and closing funds diverted directly into their untraceable bank accounts.

This all happens undetected by the escrow company or the real estate agents involved. It's a diabolical but simple fraud that experts say is widespread. So much so that every transaction I am involved with now has multiple wire fraud disclosures included and signed by all parties.

Personally, I don’t think disclosures and disclaimers are enough. When it comes to the financial security and peace of mind of my clients, I want more protection. And, quite frankly, this begins by educating ourselves.

So, just how do we stop it?

The first thing we must realize is that most of these scams occur via phishing and social engineering — not firewall penetration or other traditional hacking techniques. To that end, there are specific precautions all buyers and sellers should take.

Tom Salomone, president of the National Association of Realtors, warns, “Buyers and sellers should be wary of sending financial information over email, downloading attachments or responding to email requests to wire money in a real estate transaction. And of course, ‘phishing’ or other suspicious activity should be reported to the Federal Trade Commission.”

In conjunction with NAR’s warnings about the scam, The Federal Trade Commission published an article that lists some precautions buyers can take to protect themselves and their money. They are:

  • Don’t email financial information. It’s not secure.
  • If you’re giving your financial information on the Web, make sure the site is secure. Look for a URL that begins with https (the “s” stands for secure). And, instead of clicking a link in an email to go to an organization’s site, look up the real URL and type in the Web address yourself.
  • Be cautious about opening attachments and downloading files from emails, regardless of who sent them. These files can contain malware that can weaken your computer’s security.
  • Keep your operating system, browser and security software up to date.

Now, before you go any further, go back and re-read those last four points. Commit them to memory.  

And, lastly, let me add this: I understand we all do so much on our phones nowadays that we aren't as diligent about seeing who really sent us an email. We’re in a hurry to get things done. We click instinctively. Of course, it makes sense, especially when we’re so busy. However, when you’re in escrow, make a commitment to yourself to only do “escrow business” from your laptop or desktop.

Pay attention and when in doubt about any email, pick up the phone and CALL. That's right go old school and get on the phone to find out if the other party did, in fact, send you the email?

The precautions you take now will save you a headache later!

I am always interested in hearing your feedback, stories, and insights. Message, email, or call.

I’m always here for you.

Jamie