Evolving real estate scams – vigilance needed

Last year, an old wire transfer scam evolved to target Realtors® and their clients. A December 15th “Alert” put out by the National Association of Realtors® (realtor.org) reminded NAR members and consumers to be vigilant. “The hackers often send an email that appears to be from an individual legitimately involved in the transaction, informing the recipient, often the buyer, that there has been a last minute change to the wiring instructions.  Following the new instructions, the recipient will wire funds directly to the hacker’s account, which will be cleared out in a matter of minutes. The money is almost always lost forever.”

real estate
From nar.realtor

NAR offers guidance and “best practices” to prevent being a victim of scams and cybercrime. Even though your agent should be mindful and exercise caution, you should take the initiative to protect yourself. You should be attentive and alert to the possibility of email scams by: not sending sensitive information via email; never trust unverified email; you should not interact with suspicious emails; clean your email regularly; do not conduct business over free WiFi hotspots; and use strong passwords that are changed regularly.

NAR stipulates that the guidance is “not all-inclusive,” and you should check with your agent about their office’s cybersecurity policy. The warning states that the scammer emails are “extremely convincing,” such that “many sophisticated parties have been duped.” No one is “too small” to target, and don’t be over confident about being tech savvy. “This fraud is pervasive, convincing, and constantly evolving.

According to an August 28th report issued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (Business E-Mail Compromise, An Emerging Global Threat; fbi.gov) BEC (Business E-Mail Compromise) is an insidious scam that is not only targeting real estate, but all businesses and consumers. According to FBI Special Agent Maxwell Marker (of the FBI’s Transnational Organized Crime–Eastern Hemisphere Section in the Criminal Investigative Division), “BEC is a serious threat on a global scale…It’s a prime example of organized crime groups engaging in large-scale, computer-enabled fraud, and the losses are staggering.”

BEC statistics compiled by the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (ic3.gov), from October 2013 to August 2015 reported 8,179 total victims (U.S. and non-U.S.) and $798,897,959.25 combined U.S. and non-U.S. exposed dollar loss. The IC3 has reported that computer intrusions related to BEC are on the rise; and can be initiated via a phishing scam that downloads malware that can access the victim’s data, passwords, and financial information.

Multiple versions of the scam are being implemented, and it’s likely that the tactics will change as cybersecurity catches up with the scammers. The most recent version identified by the IC3 has fraudsters claiming to be a law firm handling confidential information (including real estate transactions). The scammer may use email and/or telephone to contact potential victims, who are pressured to act quickly at the end of the business day.

To learn more about BEC, protection strategies and how file a complaint – visit the Internet Crime Complaint Center (ic3.gov). If you are a victim of BEC, the IC3 recommends that you: contact your financial institution immediately; request that your financial institution contact the corresponding financial institution where the fraudulent transfer was sent; contact your local FBI office (if the wire is recent, the US Department of Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network might be able to help return or freeze the funds); and, regardless of dollar loss, file a complaint with the IC3.

By Dan Krell
Copyright © 2016

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Disclaimer. This article is not intended to provide nor should it be relied upon for legal and financial advice. Readers should not rely solely on the information contained herein, as it does not purport to be comprehensive or render specific advice. Readers should consult with an attorney regarding local real estate laws and customs as they vary by state and jurisdiction. Using this article without permission is a violation of copyright laws.