Technology is advancing rapidly to create a more efficient consumer experience across all platforms including changing the dynamics of banking to be more mobile-friendly. With the ability to transfer money online within a few moments, wire transfers have been the ideal choice for investors or homebuyers closing on properties. Wire transfer is simply an electronic transfer of money from one account to another. This may seem to be the fastest, most convenient way to transfer money, but it has opened an area of vulnerability known as wire fraud. Wire fraud is when a hacker uses an email that appears to be sent by a real estate agent or title officer from the company, but is actually from a fraudulent address.
In 2018 alone, the FBI revealed that $149 million was lost due to real estate wire fraud from over 11,000 victims – a 166% increase from the previous year. The most vulnerable victims of wire fraud are first-time homebuyers who, on the edge of closing on a property, receive fake emails from scammers who provide fake wiring instructions. Hackers can not only monitor homebuyer emails, but they also have access to all the recipients in the homebuying process, making it easy to create a legitimate email with a new routing number and account information. You may have heard the term phishing through online dating sites, but it is an issue happening across businesses as well. Phishing, defined by Merriam-Webster, is a scam by which an internet user is duped, by a deceptive email message, into revealing personal or confidential information, which the scammer can then use illicitly. Scammers tailor their emails through credibility and rapport by extensively researching a business’s Linkedin page, their employee’s Facebook profiles, and their actions on Twitter. Information is easily attainable and it is important now, more than ever, to be fully aware of who is in your transaction process.
It is very important to be aware of the risks, as a homebuyer, of wire transactions and how to distinguish the signs of fraudulent activity and how to stop them. At Canyon Title, we urge you to always call your Canyon Title Escrow Officer to confirm the wiring instructions before sending any money!
Please read on for more information and tips on spotting Wire Fraud
Wire Fraud – What to look for
- Emails with grammatical errors, misspelled names, small errors like typos, awkward email header information compared to previous emails.
- Requests made outside of normal business hours
- Last-minute email changes or a new email chain for wiring information and requesting an email confirmation opposed to phone confirmation
- A change in the email address of the sender. What to look out for are character substitutions like the addition of a 0. Here are some examples of fraudulent emails below and a good way to test your abilities to spot fraudulent emails is with Google’s Phishing Test, https://phishingquiz.withgoogle.com/
Susie’s real email address is “Susie@canyontitle.com”, here are some examples of fraudulent emails.
email@example.com ← the number “0” instead of “o”
firstname.lastname@example.org ← the number “1” instead of “l”
email@example.com ← the extra “e” at the end
firstname.lastname@example.org ← the missing “title” at the end
Wire Fraud – Tips to protect yourself
- Call, don’t email. With a suspicious account, they will ask to verify through email instead of over the phone. When given wiring instructions, call to verify the information with your Title Officer or Escrow Officer personally.
- Be suspicious. It is uncommon for companies to switch wiring instructions. When responding to an email, hit forward instead of reply. Type in the Officer’s email address to confirm there are not two, almost identical email addresses.
- Verify funds were received. Call the Title Insurance Company to validate that the funds were received. It takes about 24 to 72 hours for wired funds to be completed so if the money was sent to the wrong account, that window gives you the best chance of recovering the transfer
If you suspect you fell victim to a scammer, follow these tips:
- As soon as you suspect fraudulent activity IMMEDIATELY contact your bank and request a recall of the wire due to fraud. It’s important to act quickly because money can be transferred out of an account and sent offshore within 24 to 72 hours.
- Notify your Canyon Title escrow officer and the Colorado Bureau of Investigation.
- If the money is still in the account, it may be able to be frozen.