You’ve toured homes, made an offer, negotiated the terms and come to an agreement. You’re mere days from closing on your first home, and then you receive the email from the title company with the wire transfer information instructing you to send your down payment. With that done, you’re a few signatures from being a homeowner – and you couldn’t be more excited.
But something’s wrong. The title company hasn’t received the money yet. A wire transfer, who should take all of a few hours, hasn’t gone through after two days.
Only then you realize the email from the title company with the account number was slightly different, and you confirm the account the company sent versus the one in the recent email you received are completely different.
You’ve been the victim of a phishing scam, and you’ve lost your entire down payment in the process.
But surviving the real estate closing doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. Homeowners have to continue to remain vigilant concerning their mortgage, as well-known financial institutions appear to be targeting homeowners to the point of harassment for refinancing that doesn’t provide any significant benefit, and even draws out the time you’ll spend paying off your mortgage.
While it’s almost impossible to prevent these schemes aimed at preying on home buyers and borrowers from happening altogether, individual consumers can learn how to spot red flags and avoid becoming a victim. Whether you’re just dipping your toes into the housing market or you’re halfway through your 30-year mortgage, here’s what you need to know about scams targeting you and the money you’ve saved to pay for your home.
Faulty Purchase Wire Info
Sadly, stories of homebuyers losing significant portions of their down payment – or even entire home purchase – are becoming more common in the real estate industry, as real estate brokerages and title companies are struggling to employ security measures advanced enough to keep all hackers out of their systems.
Kaeti Bancroft, owner of Bancroft Properties Metro Brokers in Little ton, Colorado, came up against a phishing scam with clients last year. Having received the email from the title company with the settlement attachment and wire transfer information, Bancroft forwarded it onto her clients, who were purchasing the home for $360,000 with cash. “This was their life’s work here,” Bancroft says.
That’s when the hackers struck, managing to intercept the email and change the bank name and account number before it reached the buyers. Fortunately, however, both the buyers and Bancroft noticed the money had not gone through, and they contacted Wells Fargo, which is where the buyers sent their money from and, coincidentally, where the hackers had their account as well.
“When we discovered there was a problem and the money hadn’t arrived, [Wells Fargo was] able to look at that account that had received it, and freeze it,” Bancroft says. The buyers got their money back, but Bancroft says if both accounts hadn’t been with the same bank, it might not have been so easy.
In the District of Columbia, a lawsuit was filed in early August against Federal Title & Escrow Company and Close It! Title Services Inc., along with individuals related to the title company and involved in the real estate deal. The plaintiffs are a District of Columbia couple who fell victim to a similar wire transfer phishing scam, but they lost $1.57 million in the process.
The lawsuit alleges the title company was either so lax with its online security that it negligently allowed the money to be stolen or that it may even be possible the title company was a part of the conspiracy to defraud home buyers.
Courtesy of Realestate.usnews.com and credited to Devon Thorsby
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