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?
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
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.
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Terrible idea! f you do want to keep those emails separate
from your regular email address, be discreet when creating the new account
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?
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.
Call the FBI, and also register the complaint at
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.