There seems to be no end to what scammers will target. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions (DFI) are warning consumers to watch out for scammers intercepting money transfers during real estate transactions. Consumers have lost thousands of dollars thinking wiring instructions were changed when in fact scammers were redirecting their funds.
The way the scam works is as follows:
Scammers will hack into the email accounts of buyers and real estate professionals to collect information about upcoming real estate transactions.
When the scammer finds a pending real estate deal, they will send an email to the buyer, posing as the real estate professional or the title company, with instructions about a last-minute change to the wiring instruction to a different bank account. The new account belongs to the scammer.
This scam tries to take advantage of a buyer’s emotions as a real estate deal closes. The time up to sending payment to the seller can be a busy period in the transaction. A house purchase is an important transaction for most people, so most buyers will feel pressure to get things right. If the scammer can slip in some bogus instructions to convince the buyer to send the money to a bogus account, then they have just made some easy money.
One method of hacking for the information is phishing or in some cases spear phishing. In a phishing attack, a hacker will send an email with links to malware or attachments with malware that when opened will send back information to the hacker. In a spear phishing attack, the hacker has learned who belongs to the organization and sends the email with malware to specific employees, often posing as supervisors or other employees in the organization.
If you are closing on a house, the FTC and DFI recommend that you:
· If you get an email changing your money-wiring instructions do not do anything until you have checked with your real estate agent or the title company. Do not call or email to any phone numbers or email addresses in the email. Use phone numbers or email addresses that you have received separately. Remember, email is not a secure way to send wiring instructions.
· Don’t open email attachments, even from someone you know, unless you are expecting it. Opening an attachment can install malware on your computer.
For more information about this scam, look at the following links,
Federal Trade Commission:
Washington State Department of Financial Institutions:
The Simple Dollar:
For more information about phishing scams check out this link from the FTC: