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Avoiding Scams when Wiring Money

In real estate, money is generally sent by wire several times in the transaction. The earnest money deposit is done via wire rather than personal check, because checks take too long to clear. Money is wired from the buyer’s account for the down payment, and money is wired to the seller for the full proceeds. But criminals have found a way to steal it. How do they do it?

Thieves are scanning your emails looking for words related to home buying, and for senders and recipients related to home buying, especially title company names. So when it is time to wire money, they impersonate the title company or your agent and provide you with wiring instructions sending the money to themselves, most likely never to be found. So what can you do?

1. Keep the original, first contact email from the title company. Note the title officer’s name, phone number and email address. Use only that information for emailing or calling the title company. One way thieves get in is by telling you that the phone number, email address, or title officer has changed, so you end up communicating with the thief instead of your title officer.

2. If you get a call or email telling you the title company’s number, email address, or title officer has changed, don’t believe it. Call the number from the first email, or go to the office personally to confirm. And call your agent too – they need to be informed as well.

3. When you get the wiring instructions from the title company, call the title officer at the number from the original, first email and verbally confirm the instructions and wire numbers. The title company is not responsible for any money you send to an incorrect account. It is just gone.

4. Don’t set up an email address for your home buying process with anything related to home buying in the name. It’s an open invitation to thieves. I’ve had clients use names like ourfirsthome@x.com or homesearch@x.com. Terrible idea! f you do want to keep those emails separate from your regular email address, be discreet when creating the new account name.

5. Keep all emails related to the purchase at least until the transaction is closed and recorded. If something bad does happen, you will have a complete record that may be helpful to law enforcement.

What do you do if your money is stolen?

1. Contact your bank immediately and be prepared to provide the wire instructions that you followed. Ask your bank to contact the receiving bank to try to get it back.

2. Call the FBI, and also register the complaint at bec.ic3.gov.

3. Be prepared to provide the name and address of your bank, your account number, the wiring instructions you followed including account number, dates and amounts transferred, and the email address/ip address of the fraudulent email.

Cyber criminals are hard to catch and the money is extremely difficult to recover. Don’t add to the $3 billion stolen in real estate transactions since January 2015. Just a few extra steps will protect you and your money.