Cybercriminals are now targeting home buyers by stealing their down payments electronically. The schemes look legit but can kill a home sale and leave a buyer with no recourse. Guard yourself against this cybercrime with these tips.
How cybercrime happens
You probably know to be cautious about a suspicious email from an unexpected source asking for personal information. But it’s easy to be caught off guard by an email that seems to come from a business you are currently working with. Recently, cyber thieves have targeted the email accounts of real estate professionals — agents, mortgage companies, closing attorneys and title companies — to acquire the names and contact information of home buyers. When a closing is imminent, the thieves send the home buyer an email from an address that looks virtually identical to the professional’s email. The fraudulent email instructs the buyer to wire their down payment to a particular bank account. The email is bogus, and the bank account is overseas, controlled by the cybercriminals and generally outside the reach of U.S. law enforcement. The scheme has robbed buyers of their down payments and left them with no way to get the money back.
How can you protect yourself?
First, be aware that this sort of cybercrime is out there. There’s no need to be paranoid; just be vigilant and exercise due diligence when responding to email requests.
Early in the buying process, establish a relationship with a “go to” person at each professional’s office who is familiar with your case. If you receive an email from what seems to be one of your real estate professionals instructing you to send funds to a particular bank account, don’t act on it immediately, particularly if the instructions are different from what you were originally told. Instead, pick up the phone and call your “go to” individual at that office to check whether the email is legitimate and to inquire about the new transfer instructions. Do not call the phone number in the email, which will be answered by one of the cybercriminals.
It is also a good idea to regularly change the passwords on your email and bank accounts to thwart cybercriminals from accessing your sensitive data.