CAUTION: There’s a mortgage closing phishing scam going around that is targeting homebuyers. The Federal Trade Commission, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and National Association of Realtors have all issued warnings. If you’re in the process of buying a house or plan buying one in the near future, following these guidelines can help you stay protected.
Watch out for fake emails that look like the real thing
Phishing is when an internet scammer pretends to be a business in order to steal your personal information. For this scam, hackers are breaking into consumers’ and real estate professionals’ email accounts and gaining access to upcoming real estate transactions.
After finding out key dates, like the closing date:
- The scammers send an email to the buyer posing as the real estate agent or title company.
- The fake email says there have been some last-minute changes regarding funding and asks the buyer to wire money to a different account, the scammers account.
- When the buyer takes the bait, their account is completely wiped out.
If this takes place, all your hard-earned cash is likely gone forever.
That’s what’s happening to today’s homebuyers in several states, with more cases seen in California. Most recently, a Carlsbad couple lost 60 percent of their home’s purchase price — or $775,000 set aside for their down payment — to a Singapore-based scammer. Months earlier, a Wisconsin executive and his wife were scammed out of over $260,000.
Even real estate moguls like Shark Tank investor Barbara Corcoran, who just lost over $388,000, aren’t safe.
Instead of using this sizeable sum to lower their cost-of-living, as intended, the young parents in California wired the money in response to an email sent from their realtor. The fraudulent email, upon closer inspection, said “.corn” and not “.com.” Last year’s FBI numbers show over $221 million lost to real estate scams.
Mortgage closing fees are generally held in a buyer’s account, and scammers know it. It just takes a few minutes for thieves to clear it out. Worst of all, buyers aren’t likely to have any way to get their money back.
A good guideline to remember: Email isn’t secure, and financial information shouldn’t be sent or received through email. If you ever get requests for money transfers via email that you think might be legitimate, but you have questions, call your lender to check on the request’s authenticity. Act quickly if a scam occurs and file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) immediately.
Do your homework
If your realtor has enough industry knowledge to warn you of a potential phishing scam, you are on the right track. You can also ask if an agent uses two-step authentication to secure their email. Then, take extra precautions by confirming your agent is licensed.
A licensed realtor is held to a higher standard. In some states, agents are required to have their pocket card with them at all times, showing their license number. So, all you have to do is ask. Or, you can look up professional real estate licenses online, issued by state.
It also helps to keep your eyes open for agents who show signs of “phishy” behavior — and cut ties as needed:
- Reconsider an agent if they charge an upfront fee to list your home instead of getting paid commission when they sell your house.
- A real estate agent who talks negatively about their competition may be in violation of a code of ethics.
- Be cautious of an agent who doesn’t provide a written offer rejection form; they may not have submitted your offer.
- An agent who promises a kickback after closing could land several parties in jail — this is against federal law.
- Research an agent met from a cold call to ensure they’re trustworthy. This’ll also help you screen over-the-phone real estate scams.
Checking up on any realtor you choose to work with — along with any financial emails you receive — is one of the simplest forms of fraud prevention. That said, there are plenty more outstanding realtors than there are questionable ones. You can ask your loan officer for a referral to a reputable realtor they’ve successfully worked with in the past.
A good guideline to remember: Licensed realtors with an online presence should have reviews that indicate the quality and ethics of their service. To take it a step further, you can confirm that an agent is a member of a professional organization. A list of the top-ranked residential real estate state associations can be found here.
Look for a lender that knows how to keep your data safe
We can’t stress it enough — please don’t take this scam lightly. Not only can scammers take your money, but they can affect the closing on your house. Reach out to a local loan officer using the latest tech tools with built-in security features required to protect your personal data. Get the super-secure mortgage processing you deserve and still get closed in 10 days.
For educational purposes only. Please contact your qualified professional for specific guidance.
Sources deemed reliable but not guaranteed.