Scammers continue to be very active in new ways to extract money from their victims. The newest scam I just heard about is targeting home buyers.
In this scam, the criminal first targets someone who is involved in real estate transactions. This could be a real estate attorney, a realtor, or a title company. The criminal, through malware, gains access to the real estate person’s email account. The criminal then can monitor the realtor’s emails to watch for upcoming home sale transactions.
Near the closing date for the transaction, the criminal sends an email through the realtor’s email account directly to the buyer requesting they wire the down payment to a certain bank account. The buyer assumes this is the account for the seller and has their bank send the wire. However, the bank account belongs to the criminal and is probably located in a bank outside of the U.S. The funds are now out of the reach of U.S. law enforcement. Additionally, the buyer/victim has no recourse from their bank because they initiated the transaction.
How to protect yourself from becoming a victim:
- Any time you receive an email or phone call requesting you to wire funds to a bank account that is different than what your paperwork says, follow up with a phone call to the sender of the email. Call the phone number you have in your paperwork, not the number listed in the email. Verify that you are talking to the person you have been dealing with previously. You should also verify the information in the email. Ask questions to find out why the bank account has changed. If you are uncomfortable with any of the answers, don’t send the wire until your questions are answered to your satisfaction.
- Follow this same procedure if you receive an email or phone call asking for personal information or if the email involves signing an e-document.
- Let your bank know that you are purchasing a home. Request that they add two-step or voice verification for any wires out of your account.
The home-buying process should be one filled with hope and expectation. When a scammer gets involved, the happy event turns into one of stress and frustration. Keep yourself safe with the above tips and, as always, please reach out if you have questions or would like more information!
Judith Ackland has more than 26 years of experience in accountancy and financial planning, including seventeen years as a CFO of a diverse business. She started Crystal Financial in 2010 to help a wide array of individuals, families, and business owners better understand their finances and how good financial management could help them achieve their goals. Judith has an MA in Professional Accountancy from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln as well as a Certified Public Accountant Certificate and a Certified Financial Planner designation.