Wire Fraud in Real Estate is Real

Why do I put this tag line on each of my emails?

*Wire Fraud is Real* Before wiring any money, call the intended recipient at a number you know is valid to confirm the instructions. Never trust wiring instructions sent via email.

It’s because wire fraud in real estate is real and happens more often than you’d think. Here are some examples of how criminals commit wire fraud in real estate:

  • Online thieves pose as real estate agents, lenders or other real estate professionals. They call or send an email or text message to buyers that looks like it’s from the buyer’s real estate agent, attorney, bank or title company, with instructions to wire money to a new account. 

    My neighbor sent me the following graphic, which shows how cybercriminals try to make their fraudulent emails appear as though they’re from a legitimate business

  • Scammers hack into real estate websites. They change the listing price of a property or create fake listings altogether and ask potential buyers to wire money as a down payment or earnest money, or first month’s rent on a fictitious rental property. This can trick buyers into wiring funds to the fraudster, who then disappears.

  • “Help” with getting a mortgage. A scammer pretends to be a mortgage lender and offers you a loan with low interest rates. But after you wire money to the scammer’s account, you never get the loan.

  • Fake escrow accounts. Cybercriminals pose as an escrow company and ask buyers to wire money to an account they control. Once the money is wired, the scammer vanishes and the buyer loses the property.

  • Wire fraud after closing. Fraudsters impersonate real estate agents or lenders and contact buyers after closing, claiming that there is a problem with the title or loan. They ask the buyers to wire money to cover the costs of fixing the supposed problem. They may emphasize that the wire transfer be done urgently so the real estate purchase can be completed without further issues.

  • Mortgage payoff fraud. Criminals target homeowners with existing mortgages, impersonating the mortgage lender or servicer and giving the homeowner new instructions for wiring the mortgage payments or quoting a false payoff amount. The homeowner wires the funds to the fraudster’s account, resulting in missed payments and potential foreclosure.

There have been several instances of real estate wire fraud in and near Greenwich, CT. Most recently, in March 2023, a home buyer in Greenwich’s neighboring city of Stamford lost nearly $426,000 to an email wire fraud scheme. The perpetrator had tricked the home buyer into wiring the money to a fraudulent account. Thankfully, eventually the damage was limited: $425,000 of the funds were frozen and recovered.

However, all too often, victims don’t recover stolen money. It’s important to be aware of real estate wire fraud scams and to take steps to protect yourself. Here are some tips:

  • Only wire money to accounts you know and trust. Verify the identity of anyone who asks you to wire money by calling the person or company directly. Make sure that the instructions for wiring money are from the correct party and that the account number is right.

  • Be suspicious of any requests for wire transfers that seem urgent or out of the ordinary. Be doubly wary if the market or the property you’re bidding on is “hot,” because you may feel under pressure to act right away. If something doesn’t seem right, don’t wire the money.

  • Never initiate a real estate wire transfer using a web link provided in an email. If you must wire money, do so from your bank.

  • Beware of phishing scams. Phishing scams are emails that appear to be from a legitimate source, such as a real estate agent or lender. These emails may contain links or attachments that contain malware. Do not click on links or open attachments in emails from unknown senders.

  • Be aware of the latest wire scams targeting the real estate business. Cybercriminals constantly come up with new ways to steal money. Educate yourself about common wire-fraud techniques so you can recognize and avoid potential scams.

By following the above tips, you can help protect yourself from wire fraud in real estate. If, despite all precautions, you think you’ve been the victim of wire fraud, contact your bank immediately. The sooner you act, the better your chances of recovering any money you may have lost to real estate wire fraud.

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