Sponsored Content by Ekko Title
By Lisa S. Mitchell
Wire fraud is one of the fastest growing cyber crimes in the United States. Since the inception of technology and the continuous push for faster, paperless transactions wire fraud will continue to be an industry hot topic.
The scenario is nothing you haven’t heard or been warned about before. Fraudsters assume the identity of the settlement or real estate agent, they access the person’s email and acquire pertinent details about the upcoming real estate transaction. The Fraudster will then send an email unknowingly to the buyer and provide new wire instructions for the delivery of the buyers down payment. Unbeknownst to the buyer, these instructions are to the criminal’s bank account. The eager buyer wires the funds per the instructions provided and goes to settlement. At settlement, the buyer realizes what has occurred. They can’t buy their house and their life savings is long gone.
This is not an uncommon occurrence. Fraudsters prey on public email domains such as Hotmail, Gmail and yahoo email accounts. Why? These are free accounts that are able to be set up in an instant and are easily compromised. Business Email Compromise or (BEC) accounted for the highest reported fraud in 2017. The losses totaled more than $56 Million dollars according to FBI data. How can you protect yourself for business purposes, set up your own email domain for your business with an IT specialist that can put the right security and fire walls in place to minimize your exposure. This will be well worth the investment.
The best way to combat wire fraud is to be aware of the threat. Do not open email attachments from unknown senders. Educate your buyers; title and escrow companies will not send wiring instructions through an unencrypted email or last-minute changes to those instructions. Do not forward encrypted email messages to your clients, forwarding these emails remove the encryption. The best line of defense is to make a PHONE CALL to your title company to verify that the wire instructions you have in hand are the correct ones. Remember, anyone involved in a real estate transaction is a potential target for hackers, not only buyers. Be aware, follow up and ask questions.
Time is of the essence, if you suspect your transaction has been hacked, report immediately to FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center: www.ic3.gov.
Sources: “Protecting Your Transactions From Wire Fraud” https://magazine.realtor/daily-news/2018/10/18. Wire Fraud Alert! Ekko Title 2017