This Article I am sharing from CNBC
Scammers are tricking people out of enormous payments as they’re about to close on a house
- A new variant of wire fraud schemes is increasingly targeting home buyers.
- Buyers are tricked into wiring their downpayment on the day of closing to a fraudulent offshore account, often by criminals who have spoofed or co-opted their real estate professional’s email account.
- Losses from these scams are typically not covered or reimbursed by the bank. Since the wires go overseas, it’s nearly impossible for victims to recover their money.
- Victims have lost six-figure sums and had to cancel transactions on their dream homes due to this fraud.
Sun, 2 Sept 2018 CNBC.com
It’s a nightmare scenario for any homebuyer: the day before closing, a scammer manages to trick you into wiring your down payment to an offshore account. You lose your hard-earned money and you lose the house, and there’s no way you can get either one back.
That’s how some criminals have adapted the common “business email compromise” scam – so-named because it used to almost exclusively target businesses – to focus on individuals, especially people who are involved in a pending real estate transaction.
CNBC spoke with two victims of this type of crime who wished to remain anonymous. They were devastated to lose six-figure sums, their dream homes and in one case, the bulk of the individual’s life savings.
And it’s a crime that is growing, according to Ryan Kalember, senior vice president of cybersecurity strategy for email security company Proofpoint, which tracks cybercrimes perpetrated over email. Kalember has observed attempts at this type of crime have risen to a level 14 times higher than last year. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has also warned several times this year that email compromise schemes are spiking, which includes this type of real estate fraud.
How criminals fool homebuyers
Here’s how it often works: a person involved in a real estate transaction, such as a real estate attorney or realtor, has his or her email account compromised by malicious software, known as malware, sent by a criminal over email. Unbeknownst to the professional, the fraudster can now monitor the realtor’s emails to look for upcoming transactions.
Next, just as a closing date is coming near, the fraudster uses the compromised email account to send a legitimate-looking message to the buyer – which, coming directly from the realtor or attorney’s account, appears real. The note tells the buyer that there’s been a change of plans, and he or she needs to wire the down payment just before the closing date, supposedly to a bank account belonging to the seller.
But the account actually belongs to the criminal, and is typically overseas, out of the reach of U.S. law enforcement, Kalember said.
In some cases, Kalember said, criminals even follow up with phone calls to the victim buyers, purporting to be from a representative for the title company or seller’s law office, and reassuring them the wire transfer request is real.
“The technical skill level is near zero for this crime, but the operational sophistication is very high,” Kalember said. “That means that the phishing kits and other technical tools are freely available on the internet, but they are investing more time and effort into taking steps to trick the consumer.”
The reason is clear. The immediate payout for the criminal is lucrative, often far more than other types of scams against individuals.
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