Key Practices to Avoid Real Estate Fraud |
Real estate is a target for cyber criminals, whether it’s by compromised data, cracked passwords or phishing. More and more, home buyers and sellers – and the practitioners who serve them-are reporting theft via wire fraud. Criminals access emails, learn of a pending transaction, and then message phony wiring instructions to victims. Bogus DocuSign emails, emails with illegitimate referrals and ransomware are also on the rise.
Being a victim of wire fraud can be devastating – the funds are almost always irretrievable once sent. And aside from making off with money, criminals can filch Personally Identifiable Information, or “PII”, through any or a combination of schemes.
So how can you protect yourself when buying a home?
1. Being aware that you may be a target is key to protecting yourself from fraud. By educating yourself on the danger, you’re much more likely to identify suspicious activities and changes to procedure that are utilized by hackers.
2. Be sure that you clearly understand the wiring instructions for your transaction, and ensure that you’re getting that information from a verified source. Title and settlement companies should send you instructions on your wire transfer through a secured service, not just through an email. Many will also have their standard procedures posted on their website.
Realtors should not be the direct source of wiring instructions and should let clients know they will be coming directly from the title or settlement company. Buyers should try to speak with someone at the title company during the process and get to recognize their voice and maybe even something personal about them that you can ask to confirm their identity.
Make a phone call to a number that’s listed on the title or settlement agency’s website to speak with a real person to verify the information. Don’t just call the number listed at the bottom of the written instructions – that information could be bogus too.
3. If something seems wrong or fishy, it probably is. If you are sent a message requesting a partial payment, notifying you in a change in the deadline for your transfer, or detailing a new procedure for your wire transfer, don’t do anything without talking to your agent. Last minutes changes are a big red flag.
General Fraud Suggestions:
Don’t own a debit card
The credit card is the safest form of payment on Earth because the liability is always zero. You are making yourself vulnerable if you use debit cards.
Don’t write a lot of checks
Anyone who sees the information on a check – bank account number, routing number, name and address – can wire money out of that account.
Ninety-eight% of stealing a person’s identity is just finding their date of birth and an image of them. Facebook and social media pages are the easiest way for fraudsters to get this information.