I remember the day very clearly because it was my first time hiking Angel’s Landing at Zion National Park, where there is little to no cell service. When I got my signal back, there was a panicked message from a listing agent I had been working with on a transaction.
The property was located in Heber City and we used a local title company. The listing agent told me that the title company received an email from the sellers (his clients) directing the title company to send the proceeds from their sale to a different account. The title officer found this email suspicious as she had just spoken with the sellers, so she contacted the parties involved. It turned out that hackers hijacked the sellers’ email, so the email received by the title officer looked like it came from the sellers. Thankfully, due to the professionalism of this title officer, a disaster was averted.
How did hackers know these people were selling property? How did they know the parties involved? What would have happened if my buyer’s 20% down payment and his loan were wired to someone other than the seller? This thought sent a chill down my spine.
It turns out that sending fraudulent wiring instructions via email is one of the favorite methods used by criminals. Unfortunately, there are thousands of documented cases where individuals have lost their life savings due to wire fraud. And it happens everywhere, even in a small town like Heber City!
How Can You Avoid Being a Victim of Wire Fraud?
- Never write the words “wire instructions” in the subject of an email.
- If you receive wire instructions, always call the party to verify the instructions. If it’s a business, verify the phone number you are calling is actually the business and not an imposter. You can do this if you have contacted the party in the past, or look up their number on the internet.
- Never send an email to verify wire instructions in case the sender’s email was hacked.
- Verbally confirm the account and routing numbers.
- Be suspicious of emails with “revised” wiring instructions. This rarely happens.
- Always use passwords that are long and complex. Change them often.
- Beware of opening attachments from unfamiliar sources because they could contain malware or phishing schemes.
- Make sure you have Anti-Virus and Malware protection that is up-to-date.
My brokerage, Summit Sotheby’s International Realty, requires all clients entering into real estate transactions to sign a “Wire Fraud Scam Alert” disclosure. And it’s always a topic of conversation with my clients. Real estate transactions can involve wiring millions of dollars. Even if you are wiring funds for reasons other than the purchase of real property, these tips can help you avoid the heartache of stolen money. Once the money goes into the fraudster’s account, there is almost a zero chance it will ever be recovered.