The Kitty Hawk Police Department recently issued a warning about an online scam that has appeared along the Outer Banks that has been targeting those who are in the process of buying real estate.
You may get an email that appears to be from a business or someone involved in the purchase process asking you to wire money and providing you specific wiring instructions.
Authorities say “Don’t do it. It is a SCAM!”
So how does this happen?
In instances of wire fraud, a common ploy involves hackers breaking into a real estate agent’s email account to obtain details about upcoming transactions. Once the hackers have all the information they need, they send an email to the buyer, pretending to be the agent or a representative of the title company.
In an email to the buyer, the hackers state that there has been a change in the closing instructions and that the buyer needs to follow new wire instructions listed in the email. If a buyer falls victim to the scam and wires money to the fraudulent account, they’re unlikely to see the money again.
So how can you avoid it?
Wire fraud is one of many types of online fraud targeting real estate professionals and their clients. To prevent cyber crime from occurring, every party involved in a real estate transaction needs to implement and follow a series of security measures that include the following:
Never send wire transfer information, or any type of sensitive information, via email. This includes all types of financial information, not just wire instructions.
If you’re a real estate professional, inform clients about your email and communication practices, and explain that you will never expect them to send sensitive information via email.
If wiring funds, first contact the recipient using a verified phone number to confirm that the wiring information is accurate. The phone number should be obtained by a reliable source—email is not one of them.
If email is the only method available for sending information about a transaction, make sure it is encrypted. Delete old emails regularly, as they may reveal information that hackers can use.
Change usernames and passwords on a regular basis, and make sure that they’re difficult to guess. Make sure anti-virus technology is up to date, and that firewalls are installed and working.
Never open suspicious emails. If the email has already been opened, never click on any links in the email, open any attachments or reply to the email.
What if you are a victim?
Contact your local law enforcement agency as soon as you know it has happened. DO NOT WAIT! There is a small window of opportunity that may exist in getting your funds back from a fradulent wire transfer. Save all of the emails that you were sent because they can be evidence.
What if your company has been hacked?
Take the following steps if you suspect that your email, or any type of account, has been hacked:
- Immediately change all usernames and passwords associated with any account that may have been compromised.
- Contact anyone who may have been exposed to the attack so they too can change their usernames and passwords.
- Remind them to avoid complying with any requests for financial information that come from an unverified source.
- Report fraudulent activity to the FBI via the Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov/default.aspx.
Also contact the state or local realtor association, which will alert others to the suspicious activity.
Just a reminder that this scam is not confined to the real estate community, and is just a variation on a theme. There are many more wire transfer scams that exist today.