The world is full of scams. Even people who consider themselves scam-savvy, are more vulnerable than they think they are. Unfortunately, the real estate industry is yet another fraud favorite. The number of people who lose thousands of dollars through mortgage wire transfer scams has risen at an alarming rate.
This is how the dastardly deed is done. Hackers gather the info they need – phone, address, social security number, mortgage/settlements figures, etc. They accomplish this through computer hacker techniques called “phishing” and “spoofing.” No one actually knows what phishing and spoofing are (well, someone must), but they involve words like “computer,” “identity theft,” “obtaining information,” “social networking,” “downloading,” and “malware.”
After the hackers have the personal info in their slimy little hands or computers, they email (or call) victims and pretend to be the agent or someone with the title company. The email is regarding a highly important, time-sensitive matter. Unfortunately, failure to act immediately will put the closing in jeopardy. The email goes on to say something about a last-minute change to wiring instructions or an incorrect address previously provided. So, the email recipient will need to wire the closing costs directly, to ensure that the closing will proceed as planned.
The buyer usually vows that this is the last house they will ever buy, and follows the email instructions (why stop taking orders now?). The money then magically disappears and reappears in an overseas account that belongs to the shopping-spree scammer.
The goal of the theft is to get your closing costs into the dirty rascal’s bank account. And sadly, after a wire transfer has been initiated, there is almost no chance of recovering the money.
Of course, you would never fall for some sketchy scheme like this. But, just in case you have a very, very rare “off” day, do not underestimate the ability of these thieves. They are good at what they do. Even the wisest, and most experience people fall prey to these bad guys and lose thousands of dollars in a matter of minutes.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides these tips to avoid all phishing scams:
- Don’t email financial information. It’s not secure.
- If you’re providing your financial information on the web, make sure the site is secure. Look for a URL that begins with https (the ‘s’ stands for secure). And, instead of clicking a link in an email to go to an organization’s site, look up the real URL and type in the web address yourself.
- Be cautious about opening attachments and downloading files from emails, regardless of who sent them. These files can contain malware that can weaken your computer’s security.
- Keep your operating system, browser, and security software up to date.