By now most of you are probably familiar with the idea of scammers trying to steal buyers’ purchase funds. Since that amount is usually several thousands of dollars it makes sense that thieves would be interested in it. It ends up being a decent-sized reward for very little effort and risk.
Recently, we were made aware of a different twist in the wire fraud trend. Lately, title companies have started seeing scammers go after earnest money deposits. Even though the amount is relatively small, multiple thefts can add up to a nice paycheck.
How do they do it? A scammer hacks into a realtor’s or a closing agent’s email and waits. Pretty soon he (or she) starts seeing messages about a sale transaction. He emails the buyer posing as the realtor or title agent with wire instructions for their earnest deposit. The contract is signed and the buyer follows the scammer’s instructions not knowing he has been scammed. Eventually someone notices that the earnest money never was deposited, but it is usually too late to stop the funds from going to the wrong place. Unfortunately, the amount is so small that it might be virtually untraceable as well.
Here are a couple of ways to help reduce the risk of it happening to your clients:
Educate your clients! As soon as a potential client contacts you, begin arming them with the tools they can use to protect themselves. Sure, you don’t want to freak anybody out, but go ahead and warn them about the potential risk and what you will do to help keep them safe. Have them read and sign wire fraud information sheets as they sign their initial offer. Explain to them that you will NEVER, EVER email them about wire information. Go ahead and give your clients the confirmed contact information of the title company they will be using so they can confirm any wire information being sent to them.
Make sure your email is secure. Do not use a free email service. No matter how annoying it is to do it, change your password often! Send all documents relating to a transaction securely. If you think about it, a contract has names, money amounts, closing date, and contact info for some of the parties. It’s a goldmine of information for any scammer who may have managed to hack into your email. So send those documents through secure portals to keep everybody safe.
Help keep funds secure. Encourage your clients to use the secure programs offered by title companies, including CertifID for wire instructions and Earnnest for digital funds transfers.
The bottom line is we must respect every transfer of funds and work to protect those funds. If we don’t try to do anything about wire fraud, or think that it only happens to someone else, we are letting criminals have their way. A small action on our part could spike a scammers gun.