U.S. real estate transactions are prime targets for wire fraud.
Considering that diverting a single wire transfer offers an average payout of approximately $169,000, it is clear that Buyers and Sellers should exercise the highest caution when managing their funds in escrow.
Technology continues to improve the ease of many workday functions, however it also opens an additional avenue for a criminal to practice his evil craft. Most wire fraud begins with a Business Email Compromise. A fraudster finds his way into a personal or business email account by using a phishing technique. Any party, including the buyer, seller, real estate agent, lender, title company, or closer, is a potential target for a hacker.
A criminal may begin by simply searching online for property listings, and note the email addresses of a selection of contacts. Then he will send a phishing email. These emails will appear to come from a reputable source — an industry service provider, for instance. Often they will include a link to log in for account details or to receive a document. He only needs one person to bite. The link is false, and invites the criminal in to begin his work.
The hacker is now inside the target’s communications center where he can monitor activity and prepare to strike at just the right moment. All of the details of each active transaction and its participants can be followed. The criminal knows the email addresses of key players and the timelines for closings. From here, he can divert emails coming from the escrow company and instead, have those emails forwarded to him for further action.
Email fraudsters are master impersonators.
Their spoofed emails appear identical to others the Buyer has already received from legitimate sources, but will contain the scammer’s own phone number as a bit of insurance. Therefore, if he needs to answer a confirmation call from the Buyer, he can do so. Once the closing funds are wired, the criminal will immediately transfer them out to other accounts. Typically these accounts are out of the country and in moments your funds could be forever lost.
Our free download, Protect Yourself from Wire Fraud, explains how buyers, sellers, agents and escrow officers can and should protect themselves from wire fraud!
Learn How to Protect Yourself from Wire Fraud with our PDF