How real estate wire fraud works
You are in the process of buying a home and you receive an email, text, or phone call from someone claiming to be from the title company, mortgage company, or real estate brokerage providing you instructions on where to wire your escrow funds. The swindler creates a fake website that appears nearly identical to the title or lending company that you are working with, making their website look legitimate.
The swindler is also familiar with using “spoofing tactics” to make email addresses, phone numbers, and websites appear as the legitimate ones. They commonly substitute or transpose characters - a number or letter is off, which is very easy for anyone to overlook.
If an innocent party follows their instructions to wire the money, the funds have just gone into the swindler’s bank account and withdrawn before one finds out that they have been scammed.
Spotting real estate wire fraud
- Sender refuses phone calls and insists on communicating via email only.
- Sender places a “Rush Request” to assert pressure.
- Sender uses odd or incorrect words, spelling, or phrases.
- The return email is incorrect.
- Last minute revised instructions to create confusion.
- Email links are redirecting you to a different website.
How you can protect yourself
First, do not click on any email or text links, or send money online without verifying the wire instructions with a live person on the phone from a phone number that is known to you, and that you have called and previously verified as belonging to the title or lending company that you are using for your transaction. Then, before you send any money to a third party, go back and review the original documents that you received from your lender or title company and call the phone numbers listed in your loan or title documents to verify the wire instructions that you received.
Also, be very suspicious if you receive a subsequent email or text requesting a change to wiring instructions that you already had received, and always make sure to confirm the escrow account number before wiring any money, and do not forget to call your title settlement agent to verify the transfer of the funds immediately after the money is sent.