The FBI says that criminals are becoming better at committing malicious wire fraud schemes and that the frequency of these cyberattacks is on the rise. Fraudsters have also become more sophisticated: emails with proper grammar and email signatures as well as non-email methods like phone calls, text messages, chatbots, etc. The technical skill required for these hacks is very low, but they have become increasingly convincing. Phishing kits and other tools are available on the internet and attackers are devoting more time and effort to making their scams more persuasive.
How does real estate wire fraud happen? A cybercriminal, usually overseas and out of reach of US law enforcement, compromises an email with malware allowing the fraudster to monitor that person’s account and potentially send their own sinister messages.
It’s a thorny situation. That’s why we’re looking out for you with these simple tips for avoiding wire fraud.
Step 1. Get ahead of it
From the very start of your transaction, ensure that you obtain legitimate contact numbers and email addresses from your real estate agent, lender, and title company. Throughout the duration of the transaction, these should be the only phone numbers and email addresses that contact you. Always verify that any emails or phone calls you receive match your information. Any other email you get, even if it is from your title company, may be compromised. Be aware of the more sophisticated frauds, and don’t use any phone number that appears in what would otherwise seem a trustworthy email especially if it’s different than the one you obtained in person.
Step 2. Know the proper process and do not deviate from it
At Metropolitan Title we will let you know when a wire transfer is likely, but we will fax or mail it to you—we will NEVER email wire instructions. You should always verify the wire instructions with the title company by contacting the trusted phone number you obtained in step one. A proactive tip: if you know you will need to bring more than $10,000 to the closing, then a wire will be required. Please reach out to your title company for instructions.
Step 3. Be proactive
Metropolitan Title NEVER changes wire instructions. Period. If anyone posing as a Metropolitan employee reaches you via email claiming wire instructions have changed, it is not legitimate, and you should call us immediately. Every title company has its own practices, so even if you are not a Metropolitan customer, be wary of any changes to wire instructions, email addresses, or phone numbers as these are exceptionally rare. Sometimes the fraudster will send follow-up calls or emails posing as a representative from a law office or title company to further assure the homebuyer that their fraudulent messages are legitimate. If you get any messages like this, be proactive and reach out to your trusted contact.
Step 4. For the scammer, timing matters
Especially in the final weeks before closing, homebuyers are distracted and busy–scammers know that. This is why, especially in those final weeks, scammers will send “urgent” emails pressuring you to “act immediately” or “rush.” These are dead giveaways of a scam, a desperate hope that you’ll slip up in the craziness of late stage homebuying. Title companies will never pressure you for wire transfers. Some fraudsters will send messages claiming there has been a “change of plans” and that you must wire the down payment before the closing date. Especially in these cases, don’t reply hastily: instead, follow-up with a phone call to verify any requests.
It’s sad to think about, but if you are a victim of wire fraud and you authorize anything, that money may be gone forever making it a much higher risk to consumers than the average cyberattack. Timing matters for you, too. If you have been tricked into sending funds to a fake account, if it is reported quickly, you may be able to get some of that money back. Don’t let criminals separate you from your hard-earned money.