We have been reading about fraud in real estate transactions – is this a real issue we should be concerned about here in Pittsburgh?
Fraud has become a rampant issue in the real estate industry. In the past 6 months I had several transactions where the parties received what appeared to be legitimate emails from their lenders attempting to reroute funds needed for a closing. Fortunately, I had educated my clients on the risks and all of them were quick to recognize the possible fraud and no money was lost. Not all real estate consumers are this lucky, however. Unfortunately, money lost in these scams is almost never retrievable so its important to educate yourself to the risks and exercise extreme caution around all money transfers in real estate transactions.
The typical scam is one in which the buyer receives what appears to be a legitimate email about their closing requesting information, with the ultimate goal to lure the buyer into wiring the money due at closing to a fraudulent account. There have been instances where scammers have actually hacked into a lender’s server and are sending emails from a legitimate account. Many consumers nationwide have fallen prey to these scams.
How can you avoid being victimized? First, be aware that there is a risk of fraud any time a wire transfer is involved. If you are planning to use a wire either to send funds or receive proceeds, extreme caution is warranted. Second, send and receive emails to your lender and closing company through a secure email only (and this is not the case with your standard gmail account – lenders and closers have specially protected servers for these purposes). If you don’t have access to one, ask your lender or closer to send you an email from theirs that you can you to respond to. Third, always independently verify phone numbers you are calling , either by looking at a business card or prior written document that you received or searching online for a number—do not just call the number you see in an email. It is preferable to provide and confirm wire instructions over the phone with a trusted human rather than sending them off into cyber space. Finally, if it seems fishy, it probably is. Anything requesting partial payments or making last minute changes is a definite red herring – stop and verify – involve your agent and make sure that what you are responding to is legitimate before making a hasty mistake you might soon regret!
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