Last Friday’s New York Times featured a timely warning that home buyers and sellers should be aware of—especially since it uses a particularly devious dodge.
The scam has been on the rise since the beginning of 2019. It involves “spoofing” accounts that have been hacked by the perpetrators. Buyers receive phony emails that look like instructions from their lawyers or real estate brokers. They seem to be legitimate instructions for funds transfers because the crooks’ hacks have enabled them to monitor the progress of a sale and to mimic the look and language of authentic instructions. Needless to say, the goal of the criminals is to divert funds.
The F.B.I. has been monitoring these kinds of ruses for years. Although they are far from common, the warning is due to a recent rise in activity. The simplest way to prevent losses is to closely check the email properties of incoming messages. If the sender’s identity or any hyperlink leads to an unfamiliar destination (fraudsters frequently change just one or two letters from a trusted address), the difference should sound the alarm—and a quick call to the office being imitated.
Homebuyers who are late to discover that they have been the victim of a fraudulent transfer should immediately contact their financial institution to request a recall of funds—and then contact the F.B.I.’s internet crime complaint center. If the bank asks for a police report, the Times report points out that a copy of that complaint should suffice.
Today’s homebuyers are getting used to doing a greater proportion of their everyday commerce online, so the heads-up applies to more than just real estate transactions. For my clients, one part of the service I bring is to stay in close contact throughout the entire process. There are also new ways to safeguard confidential communications—call me for specifics on our latest methods of preventing scams!