Imagine this: You're in the final few days before closing on your dream home. You already sold your new house and living temporarily in a hotel. You need everything to go smoothly. One morning an email arrives from a title company or lender asking to have funds wired immediately or it could delay closing. Not wanting any delays, you quickly head to the bank and wire the funds. What could go wrong?
The reality is plenty can go wrong. Payoff Fraud is a rising problem where someone impersonates a lender or title company to wrongfully receive funds from a settlement process, refinancing, or sale of a property. The most common tactics are similar to other scams and usually include falsified payoff statements and wiring instructions.
These frauds are often perpetrated through phishing and social engineering but can also feature incredibly authentic looking email addresses, spoofed portals and other elements that make it hard to differentiate them from honest requests. Even fax machines are no longer considered safe. The internet makes accessing information so much easier, but it can also make it easier for criminals.
So how can you stay safe?
As a title company we start by training our staff and putting in the best cyber security we can. We take the safety of our clients seriously and protecting your information is one way we show it. We also work to educate buyers and sellers. When you know how to protect yourself, we can partner together to keep you safe.
Keep your eyes out for these three red flags that you might be getting scammed. Does the email feature:
- New or changed contact information and wiring instructions
- A sense of urgency
- Something bad will happen if you don't act now
There is a strong reason to be suspicious if so. Another way to keep yourself safe is to spend some time training yourself to spot possible phishing attempts. This tool from Jigsaw and Google was designed to test users' ability to spot the latest and most sophisticated scams based on cybersecurity training with more than 10,000 journalists, activists, and politicians around the world. Take a minute to try it out.
Remember, your agent, lenders and title company partners want to help you safely complete your real estate transaction. Ensure your wire instructions come directly from the title company, do not ever accept these from a third party (even the Realtor or lender), AND obtain the title company phone number from an independent source (not an email) and call to personally verify the accuracy of the wire instructions.
If you ever have any doubts about an email's authenticity, give your team a call. We're here to help.