One of our clients moved with her family from Dallas to a small town outside of Austin and started looking for a house immediately. As many of you know, it’s not easy finding a home in this area, but luckily after a few months, she found a great neighborhood and an under-construction home they loved. As the closing drew near, she went through the seemingly endless list of items with the construction manager and mortgage company and all the numerous entities involved in a home purchase—insurance, home warranty, title, surveyor, moving company, etc.
As the emails and phone calls started flying, she and her husband noticed a sudden uptick in unsolicited phone calls. At first, she thought they had landed in a robocall cycle, but then the callers started leaving messages—extremely urgent ones. Some said their social security accounts had been compromised, and they needed to call in immediately to resolve the issue. Others were more threatening and said the Social Security Administration was gearing up to shut their entire account down so that they would be unable to access their funds.
Fortunately, the clients are pretty tech-savvy and recognized this as a type of scam known as “social engineering.” It’s most common a couple of weeks before closing (though it can happen at any time)—hackers jump in and start trying to get as much information as they can so they can divert the closing funds to their own accounts. These attempts are happening more and more to real estate transactions, and sadly some of them are successful and buyers lose all their closing funds.
The FBI put out an article on this hacking attempt and here are its recommendations:
Our friends at the Social Security Administration have some helpful tips on keeping yourself safe:
- Know that Social Security employees will never threaten to reduce your benefits or promise an increase in benefits if you give them personal information.
- Never give personal information over the phone or by email, particularly if the request comes from an unsolicited caller or in an unsolicited message.
- If you receive one of these calls, simply hang up. Do not engage the caller.
- If you have questions or concerns about your Social Security benefits, go to the official website and look up legitimate contact information. Remember—scammers can spoof numbers so they may look real. The only way to know for sure is if you originate the call.
- Finally, if you feel as though you have been caught in a Social Security scam, report it to the Office of the Inspector General.
If you’ve been victimized by an online scam, you can also report your suspicious contacts to the FBI. You can file an online report at the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center or call your FBI local office.
This is just one of many such phone and email scams out there. Communication is key—the more we share our stories with each other, the better we can help protect buyers and sellers.