Lake Wales Real Estate Fraud.
It all starts with an email.
Just days before closing on a home, a potential home buyer gets a message from their escrow officer—or at least someone pretending to be the escrow officer.
Your closing costs will needed to be wired to the title company right away, the mail says or your closing date will be pushed back.
Considering the six weeks you've spent waiting to close on the property—not to mention the disdain they had for your current rental, the message sends your head spinning.
The Email looks perfectly legit. The font looks right. The signature looks right. There is even a CC to your real estate agent. But something is off.
A closer look at the header reveals the problem. Each email address—one for my agent, one my mortgage broker and one for my escrow officer—was a single character off.
It is a fake and you have been hacked.
It Happens Everyday.
Thousands of unsuspecting home buyers fall prey to these fraud schemes every year, as the industry gets more and more digitized, the number of victims (and their losses) only grows.
According to the FBI, Americans lost nearly $150 million to real estate scams just last year. Scams in the industry have jumped more than 1,000% since 2015, and real estate is now one of the top victims of malware attacks in the country.
In 2017, a Washington, D.C. couple lost $1.5 million in a phishing scam that compromised their title company’s email server. Last year, a Colorado man lost a $56,000 down payment. And just last week, a tech executive lost $260,000.
The tales of financial heartbreak go on and on. Viral Shah, co-founder and head of financial products for Better.com explains, “Wire fraud is increasingly a problem for consumers and those in the residential real estate industry. Not only have attempts and incidents increased over the last few years; they continue to be under-reported. In the meantime, attacks have gotten more sophisticated and targeted due to the large amount of money moving in a transaction with multiple parties coordinating with each other.” Shah's colleague actually fell victim to a wire fraud scheme, losing $50,000 in the process. It’s just further proof that these attempts aren’t only a danger to consumers—but even experienced industry pros, too.
HOW THE FRAUD WORKS:
It all starts with the industry’s Multiple Listing Service and syndication sites like Zillow and Trulia, where thieves can identify pending home sales.
The fraudsters then profile all parties in the transaction (largely using publicly available websites) and attempt to hack one of the email accounts involved.
Once they’re in, they bide their time, watching ongoing correspondence until they can step in and send over false wiring instructions to steal away a down payment, closing costs or mortgage payoff funds.
This is usually done with a spoofed email account, like in my case—one that’s one or two characters off from a trusted party in the transaction.
The sheer number of parties involved is part of the problem. Everyone is vulnerable, attorneys, lenders, agents, title companies, sellers and buyers included.
The losses from these fraud schemes are likely worse than they look, too. many victims—especially those on the industry side—are hesitant to report instances of fraud, fearing the reputational impact it could have. He estimates that only 15% of all fraud is actually reported.
When you factor in these unreported cases of fraud,
About 11,300 people were victims of wire fraud in the real estate and rental sector in 2018 (a 17% increase over 2017), with losses of more than $150 million, according to FBI data.
If you are doing a real estate transaction, call your agent, title company and mortgage professional as ask them to help you make sure that you don't fall victim to these scams. You can learn more at: https://www.titlecompanylakewales.com
Stay Safe, Keep your Money and Your Transaction Safe Change your Passwords Frequently!