Whether by compromised data, cracked passwords or phishing, real estate is a target for cyber criminals. More and more, homebuyers and sellers-and the practitioners who serve them-are reporting theft via wire fraud, in which 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?
- 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.
- 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. 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.
- 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 flags.