Today's homebuyers can unwittingly become targets of scams, as evidenced by a report today by NBC in which it describes how a couple was robbed of their life savings. Citing this as a mere sampling of what can happen, real estate experts say everyone shopping for homes need to stay vigilant.
The news report spoke with multiple homebuyers who fell victim to the same scheme: hackers, intercept emails and pose as agents, conning buyers into wiring or sending their down payments to the thieves' bank accounts. By the time these victims realize what just took place, the money, as well as the scammers, are long gone.
The story cites the example of a San Jose, CA, a grandmother whose rent was about to be doubled and decided she was to move from the San Francisco Bay Area. Focusing on moving to Ohio, where her grandchildren live and where housing is substantially cheaper, she found a new home for herself south of Cleveland with an asking price around $28,000 — not even a down payment on a property in much of California, but a typical asking price in the rural Midwest.
She offered slightly less to the listing agent and was elated that her price was accepted. She decided to pay cash for the property out of her retirement savings, thrilled to know she would at last live in her own home mortgage-free. Soon afterward, she received an email telling her where to wire her funds. She complied, transferring her $25,400 payment into the designated account. Just a few days later her life changed forever after her real estate agent told her to head to her bank ASAP. There, she found she had wired her money to a fraudulent account. The listing Realtor’s account had been hacked. The buyer was told to stop the transaction, and she did, thinking this nightmare was over. But it wasn’t.
After days of wrangling with her bank in California as well as the bank in which she deposited the funds, the buyer learned her money had already disappeared from the fraudsters' account, leaving her less than $250 in life savings.
The report cited Dave Walsh, Treasurer for the California Association of Realtors, who says the problem of real estate wire fraud is growing and hackers are now targeting virtually every homebuyer, seller, and agent to capture the huge sums of money changing hands.
"When you realize that’s the depth of the thieves’ efforts to get into — to breach these data firewalls — it’s endless," Walsh said. "There's bots everywhere now, and they're simply attacking any server, including the real estate professionals' servers, for any kind of data they can get.” The report goes on to say that using the information they get from those private servers; scammers then fabricate documents that trick mortgage brokers, title agents, real estate agents, and consumers into wiring money to the wrong place.
How to protect yourself? The California Association of Realtors says home buyers need to (1) call and verify everything before sending any money. This included your agent, the seller's agent, the escrow officer, and the title company. (2) Confirm account names and numbers. (3) Call everyone again immediately after the transfer.
The grandmother in question found herself fighting banks, brokers, and even police to no avail and decided to report her dilemma to local news sources.
Attorneys are now involved.
Source: NBCDFW.com, TBWS