Thursday, 10 August 2017

Home Buyers Beware – Hackers Targeting Real Estate Transactions with Wire Fraud Scheme

Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Network Realty Recommends Vigilant Awareness to Protect from Becoming a Victim

Protect Against Wire Fraud

It is more important than ever to be vigilant about your personal financial information. Con artists are out to get your money and they are also out to destroy the American Dream.

Wire fraud is a growing issue for consumers and financial institutions involved in real estate transactions. Cyber-criminals have turned to wire fraud as a way to steal money from a home buyer during a real estate closing. Here is a typical scenario:

The homebuyer receives an email, which appears to be from the real estate company or the title company, regarding funds to be wired to an account for settlement. The email is actually from a sophisticated hacker posing as a representative from the real estate or title company. The hacker has broken into an email account to obtain information and has been monitoring the account to determine the time of a real estate closing.

The fraudulent email may look legitimate but it’s a scam. The email often will contain changes or new wiring instructions or routing information, and it will request that the buyer send transaction-related funds accordingly.

“We are advising everyone to beware of cyber-fraud,” said James Lamphere, Vice President, Title & Escrow, HomeServices of America. “Before wiring any funds, call the intended recipient at a number you know is valid to confirm the instructions. Any request to change wire instructions at or right before closing should be suspect.”

Lamphere, a member of the American Land Title Association (ALTA) who serves on several leadership committees, recently shared the association’s strategy and consumer alert awareness campaign. ALTA is working with lending and real estate industry groups to increase awareness about wire fraud, identify and promote industry best practices to deter wire fraud and advocate for steps the government can take to protect people from hackers.

“The sad truth is preventing these devastating crimes is extremely difficult,” said Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Network Realty Founder, President and CEO Linda Sherrer. “That is why awareness is the first and best approach.”

Berkshire Hathaway Home Services Florida Network Realty and its partners, including Gibraltar Title Services, LLC, are alerting homebuyers at the outset of the transaction to never open unsolicited links or attachments. Gibraltar Title Services General Manager Alan Copertino and Associate Counsel Dennis Luettich recommend buyers avoid sending any sensitive financial information by email and to use an independently verified phone number to confirm wiring instructions for their money deposit or down payment.

“Wire fraud is a growing problem in real estate and it is incumbent upon us to make sure our clients’ information is secure,” said Broker/Executive Vice President Christy Budnick. “We want to do everything we can to reduce the risk of our customers becoming victims.”

According to the FBI, the number of wire fraud scams reported by title companies to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) increased 480 percent in 2016. The FBI said that wire fraud scams have been reported in all 50 states and in 131 countries. Victim complaints filed with the IC3 and financial sources indicate fraudulent transfers have been sent to 103 countries. Criminals sought to steal roughly $5.3 billion through this fraud.

Some buyers who have fallen for this real estate closing wire fraud scheme have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to a thief. The Washington Post has reported losses ranging from $30,000 to $130,000.

If you wire money into a wrong account, the bank will not reimburse you. There is usually no recourse to get your money back. Those funds may be lost forever to a cyber-criminal who may or may not live in the United States.

For safety and protection, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Network Realty recommends consumers adhere to the following precautions:

  • Never send any sensitive financial information via email, including banking information, routing numbers or PINs.
  • Prior to wiring any funds, contact the intended recipient via a verified phone number and confirm that the wiring information is accurate.
  • Do not rely on telephone numbers or website addresses provided within an unverified email.

“Closing on a new home should be a celebration,” Budnick added. “Our goal is to make sure it doesn’t turn into a nightmare.”

For more information about buying or selling a home, contact Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Network Realty at (904) 296-1906 or visit

Safety Tips for Buyers and Sellers

Protect Yourself from Becoming a Wire Fraud Victim 

  • Call, don’t email: Confirm all wiring instructions by phone before transferring funds. Use the phone number from the title company’s website or a business card.
  • Be suspicious: It’s not common for title companies to change wiring instructions and payment info.
  • Confirm it all: Ask your bank to confirm not just the account number but also the name on the account before sending a wire.
  • Verify immediately: You should call the title company or real estate agent to validate that the funds were received. Detecting that you sent the money to the wrong account within 24 hours gives you the best chance of recovering your money.
  • Forward, don’t reply: When responding to an email, hit forward instead of reply and then start typing in the person’s email address. Criminals use email address that are very similar to the real one for a company. By typing in email addresses you will make it easier to discover if a fraudster is after you.

Source: American Land Title Association (ALTA)

Written by Clockwork Marketing

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