Recently, there have been increased reports across the nation of a theft scheme that involves hackers stealing email addresses and sending fraudulent wiring instructions to homebuyers. In 2016, this type of wire fraud resulted in nineteen million dollars being stolen. That number rose to one billion dollars in 2017. Unfortunately, without proper steps being taken by individuals sending money through wire transfers, that number could continue to rise.
LOOK OUT FOR EMAILS WITH WIRING INSTRUCTIONS
A common aspect of many wire fraud schemes involves the criminal hacking the email account of someone involved in the transaction – your lawyer, real estate agent/broker, or title company representative – and sending you an email containing altered wiring instructions. Alternatively, they may create an email account that closely resembles that of an involved party, then send a legitimate looking email with wiring instructions for their own account.
It is important to know that real estate agents and title company representatives will almost never send any wiring instructions via email.
This is not the only way that wire fraud is initiated, but it is very common. Always verify instructions either in person or by calling a trusted phone number. Avoid communicating through text or email when discussing wire transfers.
BEFORE SENDING MONEY
Before wiring money, it is recommended to call the title company representative using a phone number you’ve obtained on your own (from the sales contract, their website, etc.) and not a number originally obtained from any email, even if it appears to be a legitimate email. During this call make sure to confirm all wiring instructions including account ABA routing number or SWIFT code and credit account number. Once you have confirmed all details with a known resource, complete the wiring process.
IMMEDIATELY AFTER SENDING MONEY
Right after you send money, it is important to contact all parties involved to verify the money was received by the intended recipient. This can be done by contacting the title company again or checking through your REALTOR.
IF YOU’RE TARGETED BY WIRE FRAUD
If your money didn’t make it to the intended recipient and you’re suspicious that you’ve fallen victim to wire fraud, it is important to act quickly. Immediately call you’re bank to file a recall notice to try and get the funds back into your account. Also, be sure to file a report with your local police and the FBI.
ADDITIONAL STEPS TO PREVENT WIRE FRAUD
Everyone should take proper steps to prevent their email accounts being hacked, which can lead to the previously mentioned tactics of real estate wire fraud. Account hacking also leads to other forms of cybercrime, including identity theft and malware or ransomware. You can protect your email accounts in the following ways:
•Protect your accounts by using a strong password and multi factor authentication. Passwords should be no less than eight characters and include a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters. It is also recommended to use longer passwords, sometimes even using a whole sentence with numbers and special characters is advisable. Just make sure you can remember the password. Multi-factor authentication utilizes your password in addition to a Personal Identification Number, cell phone authentication, or other options to safely authenticate your use of the account. If multi-factor authentication is offered on your account, using it is heavily advised. For additional tips on creating strong passwords check out this article from McAfee: https://securingtomorrow.mcafee.com/consumer/family-safety/15-tips-to-better-password-security/
•Avoid using one password on multiple accounts, because if that one password were to get stolen, every associated account could be at risk. If you have the same password for your email account, online banking and credit card accounts, you’re putting yourself at risk for a complete takeover from a hacker that could drain your accounts and result in identity theft or your accounts being held at ransom.
•Ensure that you are using a secure Wi-Fi network by password protecting your home Wi-Fi account, and be careful to avoid using public Wi-Fi as many public Wi-Fi accounts are not well protected against malware and some cybercriminals set up malicious hotspots with the intention of monitoring your activity and viewing sensitive information on your device. For more information on Public Wi-Fi Security Risks visit Norton’s blog: https://us.norton.com/internetsecurity-privacy-risks-of-public-wi-fi.html