You are hours away from closing escrow on your dream home when the unimaginable happens…you receive an email from what looks like your real estate agent changing wire instructions. In your hurried, so much to do, so little time state, you follow the instructions and before you know it your down payment and ultimately your dream home are gone!

Wire fraud in real estate is one of the fastest growing cybercrimes in the country. The FBI reportedly received 301,580 complaints in 2017 and losses exceeded $1.4 billion, and in the real estate/rental sector alone, more than 9,600 victims lost over $56 million in the same year.

According to a CNBC report quoting Ryan Kalember, senior vice president of cybersecurity strategy for email security company Proofpoint, “It’s important to remember that in these cases, they lose the funds permanently.” Banks are rarely are responsible for a wire authorized by the customer, even if the customer was tricked into sending it. And if the funds are overseas, there’s little U.S. law enforcement can do to recover it.

There are steps homebuyers should take to make sure they are protecting themselves from falling victim to fraudsters, according to Kalember and the FBI.
1. Be vigilant: Homebuyers should first just be aware that they may be a targeted by scammers in this manner, and should act accordingly to verify any suspicious correspondence associated with their home purchase or sale.

2. Voice verify: It might seem cumbersome in an already long home buying process, but following up emails with a voice verification is a must, Kalember said. That’s especially true if the email involves e-signing a document, logging into a new website, transacting money or supplying any kind of financial information

3. Talk to your bank: While not all banks may follow the guidelines you suggest, most will honor your request to not allow any wire transfers without a voice verification or other checkpoint from you. This is especially true for business accounts, but even individuals going through a real estate transaction can request a note be added to their primary accounts to put additional steps in place before allowing wire transactions to go through.

4. Don’t react immediately to email: Emails asking you to take some type of action, purporting to be from the title company, attorneys, realtors, bank lawyers or others involved in a transaction may not be authentic. Regard any of them with suspicion, and you should follow up on known phone numbers for the individuals making the request to confirm.

About CENTURY 21 Hometown Realty – Hometown Realty is the leading real estate firm on the central coast of California with offices spanning Santa Barbara County and San Luis Obispo county offering expert agents and convenient locations.