Buying a new home is so exciting! But it can also be chaotic. Amid the stress and piles of paperwork it can be difficult to think clearly. Unfortunately, that’s when fraudsters are most likely to strike and try to trick you into wiring money to their account.
“This type of fraud – known as real estate or mortgage wire fraud – is one of the fastest-growing cybercrimes, and if you aren’t extra-careful, you could lose your entire down payment and the new home you’ve been saving for,” said Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum.
Here’s how the scam works: In the days and weeks leading up to the scam, sophisticated fraudsters send out phishing emails containing malware to real estate agents, employees of title and escrow agencies, or other real estate professionals like mortgage lenders. When the employees click on the links in those emails, it gives the scammer access to their email accounts. Once inside the compromised email system, the hacker can read emails and get information about the upcoming sale. After determining the closing date, the scammer poses as the real estate agent or title company employee and sends an email to the buyer. The phony email tells the buyer there has been a change to the wire instructions and directs the buyer to wire the money to a different account (i.e., the hacker’s account). The unsuspecting homebuyer then wires money for a down payment or closing costs to the fraudsters account. It may be a few hours or days before the victim realizes they were duped, and the money (and fraudsters) are long gone.
If you are in the process of buying a new home or refinancing the mortgage on your current home, review the following tips to keep you safe:
- Confirm all wiring instructions in-person. Meet with your real estate agent or title company representative to verify the account name and number where your money should be wired.
- If you are not able to meet your real estate agent or title company representative in-person, call them at a known number to confirm the wire instructions before transferring any funds.
- Be suspicious of any email, text message, or telephone call telling you there has been a last-minute change to the wire instructions.
- Email is not secure. Do not ever include sensitive financial information in an email.
- Be cautious about opening attachments, clicking on links in an email, and downloading files from emails, no matter who sent them. These files can contain malware and can weaken your computer security.
- Keep your operating system, browser, and security software on your computer up to date.
- If you suspect you wired money to a scammer, contact your financial institution immediately and ask them to stop or reverse the wire transfer as soon as possible.
- After you’ve spoken to your financial institution, file reports as soon as possible with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center online at https://www.ic3.gov/, your local police department, and the Oregon Department of Justice online at www.oregonconsumer.gov.
Be safe and enjoy your new home!
For more information on how to stay safe from fraud, visit www.oregonconsumer.gov
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