June is National Homeownership Month and there will be thousands of closings around the country. Excited buyers and sellers will be meeting around the closing table exchanging stories, keys, photos and well wishes. That is – if they ever get to the closing table. I am a Realtor in the Metro Atlanta area and we use closing attorneys not title companies to settle our transactions. As I write this article, our processes may vary from yours in other parts of the country but please take the message to heart. There is a scam out there that is effecting all parties involved in the real estate transaction and in many cases, is preventing the closing from ever happening.
The essence of the scam is as follows – the hacker gains access to someone’s email that is participating in the real estate transaction. On a personal note, I have had invitations to accept “offers”, documents, closing statements, etc. from people that I know and trust. The only reason that I have not done so is because these offers or documents are completely out of the blue and totally unsolicited. When I look closely at the email address, it is usually off by a letter or two. In every case, my friend or associate has been hacked. Once the hacker gains access to the email account, he/she simply waits. At the 11th house, the hacker sends out wiring instructions to the buyer making it look like it is coming from a trusted adviser – the Realtor, loan officer or attorney. Because the buyer is involved in a transaction with these people, they open the email and follow the wiring instructions. Of course, the account receiving the wire is bogus and the money never makes it to the attorney for closing.
The way that our office is handling the problem is by making all buyers and sellers aware of the scam in writing and letting them know that wiring instructions will only come from the closing attorney. These instructions will never come in a last minute email and all instructions, particularly account numbers, should be verified directly with the attorney’s office prior to wiring any funds.
Because I am connected with so many great professionals on LinkedIn, I would love to hear the various ways that you personally and your office collectively are addressing this scam. Anything that we can do as an industry to end this type of wrong is well worth the effort. Buyers save for years to purchase a home and should never fall victim to this type of predatory scam. I would love your feedback.
Written by Rita Cox