Real estate wire fraud is still the fastest growing form of real estate cybercrime, with nearly $1 billion being diverted or almost diverted this fiscal year, according to the FBI and South Florida real estate news writer Kenneth Harney of The Real Deal. That’s up from just $19 million in fiscal 2016.
Harney sums up the typical scheme nicely:
“Hackers find an opening into a title company’s or realty agent’s email account, track upcoming home purchases scheduled for settlements — the pricier the better — then assume the identity of the title agency person handling the transaction,” writes Harney.
“Days or sometimes weeks before the settlement, the scammer poses as the title or escrow agent whose email accounts they’ve hijacked and instructs the home buyer to wire the funds needed to close — often hundreds of thousands of dollars, but sometimes far more — to the criminals’ own bank accounts, not the title or escrow company’s legitimate accounts. The criminals then withdraw the money and vanish.”
“It’s unbelievable how often this is happening,” Jessica Edgerton, associate counsel for the National Association of Realtors in Chicago, told Harney. And Harney notes that consumers are fighting back, hiring lawyers to sue banks, title companies and real estate agents for their negligence.
Harney gives several strategies for consumers to avoid these wire fraud schemes, including keeping an eye out for last minute changes to wiring instructions and verifying information via phone or in person. An even better idea? Get CertifID, and have confidence that your transactions are safe, and you won’t be a target of wire fraud or an angry customer lawsuit.