We have seen an increasing number of phishing and other frauds trying to take advantage of both buyers and sellers in a real estate transaction. The criminals will gather information on the buyer, seller, title company, and real estate agents through social media and other internet sources. Let’s take a moment to examine some of these real estate cyber frauds.
One fraud has the criminals spoofing the email of the real estate agent to send a document with a link requesting they download a document such as an offer, counter-offer, or disclosure. There are no documents attached and when the victim clicks on the link in the email their computer or mobile device is infected with malware. It is important for all parties to have good antivirus, antimalware, and antiransomware software on their computers and mobile devices.
Another example of frauds perpetrated on buyers and sellers occurs when the criminal spoofs the escrow agents’ email and sends instructions to the buyer or seller changing the wire instructions for the funds due for the sale. The criminals will set up a bank account using the title company’s name, or a similar name, but it will be a limited liability company or sole proprietorship. If the victim takes the bait and sends the funds using the new wire instructions, the funds are lost as the criminals transfer the funds offshore as soon as the wire is posted to their account. Buyers and sellers should be advised to personally call the escrow agent and real estate agent to verify any changes to wire instructions.
There have also been many cases of criminals contacting sellers directly about purchasing their properties. Sometimes these are even cold calls to homeowners who haven’t even listed their properties for sale. The criminals offer to purchase the property at well above market value. They then tell the seller they need personal information to process the purchase and file the appropriate documents. When the victims supply their personal information, it is used by the criminals to steal the victim’s identity.
Criminals will also spoof the emails and phone numbers of mortgage brokers and lenders. Using spoofed communications, they contact the buyers asking for additional information such as tax returns, bank statements, credit card statements, etc. The criminals can use this information to hijack the buyers financial accounts or steal the buyer’s identity. No one should send personal information via the internet, mail, or fax without first verifying who requested the information and where the information is being sent.
Criminals will attempt to use anything to gather information on victims or to steal from victims. It is important for everyone involved in a real estate transaction be aware of the potential risk of these real estate cyber frauds.