How to Avoid This Real Estate Scam
According to the FBI (and a recent visit from a former FBI agent to our office to discuss this subject), if you are in real estate, you should be on the lookout for specific real estate scams. (There are at least a half dozen.) Unfortunately, one of our agents was targeted, however, the agent that he was working with was keen enough to spot the “problem” and to call him on it. Call him on the phone that is. We rely too much on technology and avoid having those quick phone conversations when it’s just as easy, if not quicker, to email or text. Well, the crooks are onto us and are getting a better understanding of how we operate. This particular crook had attempted to phish our website, gain our agent’s information, and copy and paste everything the same, however, the crook’s web address was off by one letter. This agent knew that the request from the crook posing as our agent was an odd and unrealistic request seeing as how we know that’s not how they conduct business immediately called to re-discuss the closing procedures in addition to responding to the email with what their standard closing procedures were. That’s where they looked a bit more closely at all of the email details and found the attempted duplication of our website AND all phone numbers were off by one or two numbers. The verbiage sounded correct, it sounded like our agent and everything he would have said, however, it was not our agent and this “person’s” domain was registered in another country with the contact listed in Massachusetts. Within moments of this revelation, we had banks, the rest of our team, and the team on the other end’s attention as to what was going on. Someone, not sure whom or what team, had been targeted but we caught them before it got out of hand! This could’ve cost all of us involved many hundreds of thousands of dollars. Indeed, being able to have quick phone conversations is often just as quick, if not quicker, than emailing or texting. It’s also important to be aware that criminals are getting savvier in their attempts to phish websites and gain access to valuable information. Your clients are valuable information. Being aware of the warning signs and knowing your standard business procedures can help protect you and your clients from these scams. As the FBI recommends, it’s important to always double-check any requests that seem out of the ordinary, or that don’t align with your standard procedures, and to always be on the lookout for any potential scams. We are very thankful to have caught this issue before it could have caused serious financial damage. It is reassuring to know that our team was able to quickly identify the discrepancy and take the necessary steps to prevent any further issues. Our team’s attention and vigilance in this matter are truly commendable, and in the end, it is thanks to their efforts that we have been able to avoid a costly and potentially damaging situation. We will continue to stay vigilant and be on the lookout for any suspicious activity that could cause harm to our team or any of our partners.
All of this being said is to remain on guard while emailing your peers and potential buyers/sellers. We become too lackadaisical and content in our day-to-day that sometimes things get past us when corresponding many times during a transaction. Unfortunately, it only takes a few minutes to spoil the dream for a hopeful homebuyer.
Our friend, a former FBI Agent and author of The Secret to Cybersecurity, Scott Augenbaum of the FBI Cyber Division, Cyber Crime Fraud Unit gave us these important tips to follow:
- Raise awareness in your company about the threat of business email compromise scams, which will make your company less likely to become a victim
- Do not accept any changes to bank account information via email or text messages. Require employees to verify each bank change, preferably in person or at least over the phone
- Ask your bank to hold customer requests for international wire transfers for an additional period of time to verify the legitimacy of the requests
- Be specifically suspicious of requests for secrecy or pressure to take action quickly
- Don’t call the phone number that’s included in the email requesting the bank change. Call a previously known number that’s listed in a directory or included on a business card
- Carefully scrutinize all emails related to real estate transactions, paying special attention to the sender’s email address. Make certain it’s not a spoofed email account and compare it to other emails you’ve received from that person in the past.
- If your real estate agent prefers to use a personal email account to conduct business, ask that she or he only communicate with you through company email. It’s probably more secure.
- If you’re a buyer or seller, never rely on information about a wire transfer that’s included in emails or text messages. Call your real estate agent, closing attorney, or someone at the title company and inform them that you’ve received an email or text message and want to verify its contents.
- Install two-factor authentication on your email. Ask your real estate agent, closing attorney, and representative of the title company if they’re utilizing 2FA, as well.
If you think you may have been subjected to fraud of any form, contact your local authorities along with everyone that is involved in your real estate transaction!