Protect Your Money, and Your Dreams!

Are you dreaming of buying your first home? Or maybe you are dreaming of selling your current house so you can move to your dream home, or realize some other life goal? Look out, because there are well-organized criminals intent on making that dream impossible for you. They insinuate themselves into your real estate transaction and turn it upside down, often by means of a simple email. These people are cybercriminals committing wire fraud, a virtual mugging when you move your money in a real estate transaction by wire transfer.

Cybercriminals hack into email accounts and send false wiring instructions, and before you know it, your money is headed to the wrong bank, many times out of state and even in another country.

In an article from the Chicago Tribune, several scenarios of wire fraud are mentioned involving hundreds of thousands of consumer dollars. This article was written in March of 2016, and since then the attempts of wire fraud have increased exponentially. The perpetrators are becoming craftier and more sophisticated each day, able to mimic the tone and content of a legitimate communication between you and your Realtor, bank, or title company.

You may be asking yourself, “How do I protect my dream?” At Independence Title, we have initiated several procedures to protect against wire fraud. Our closing teams have been thoroughly trained on what to look for and how to guard against these egregious attempts to hijack real estate transactions. Here are some things that you can do to protect yourself:

Buyers Should Verify Wiring Instructions Via Phone: To ensure you have the correct wiring instructions when you are sending money to Independence Title, please call our branch office using the phone numbers found on our website: www.independencetitle.com. Do this every time you wire funds, even if emailed instructions seem to come from a well-known and trusted source.
Sellers Should Bring Wiring Instructions to The Closing: When we are sending money to you, please bring your wiring instructions to our office in person. If you decide to change your instructions from what you have first provided, expect us to request that you appear in person at our office to sign off on the change.
Buyers & Sellers Should Change Your Email Passwords Frequently: Increasing your email security is a great way to help prevent wire fraud. Please change your email passwords frequently and if your platform offers two-step authentication, be sure and take advantage of this security feature.

Again, when working with Independence Title on a real estate transaction, you’re protected by encrypted email systems and well-trained employees, but your best protection is to verify information about money transfers strictly by telephone, using a confirmed phone number, or in person. We look forward to working together with you to protect your money, your investment goals, and your dreams!

Beware! Wire Fraud is at an All Time High.

You’ve done it!  You took a Buyer from shopping for a house, to a contract on a house, to the closing table and you couldn’t be more ecstatic for them.  Then… in total shock you find out your Buyers have wired thousands of dollars to a thief!  You discover the “I could never be a victim to wire fraud, it’d never happen to me” has actually happened to you!  It’s becoming more and more common in our industry and way more sneaky and sophisticated than you may think.

Unfortunately, we are seeing attempts to divert wires to imposters’ accounts on a weekly basis, leaving the Buyer, Seller, Realtor and Title Company at risk.  More often than not, the fraudster hacks into the Realtor’s email account (yes YOUR email account) or creates a close duplicate email account along with your exact signature, and then posing as the Realtor gives bogus instructions trying to divert the funds of one of the parties involved.  It’s happening and it could very well happen to you!  As a Realtor, the video below is a great tool to send to your Buyers & Sellers warning them of the risk.  NAR’s General Counsel, Katie Johnson, has made this video to help you educate your clients on how to avoid being in a wire fraud scam.

Here at Independence Title, we have put many policies and procedures in place to combat this growing issue.  This document is a great tool to send to clients during the contract process.  We send this out to all parties with a commitment and/or contract.  It is critical that you take the time to educate your Buyers and Sellers and warn them of this risk.