Because real estate transactions are considered higher value transactions conducted by either an individual or a business, it’s no surprise that they have become prime targets for hackers.
Typically, a hacker will gain access to the email account of one of the parties involved in the transaction (buyer, seller, lender, real estate agent, title company, or even the attorney), and carefully make note of important information such as closing dates or transactional details such as down payment amounts.
As the closing date approaches, the hacker will actually pose as one of these parties involved in the transaction and send and email with new instructions for wiring funds. Keep in mind that the scammers are very clever and the email address they are sending from will look very similar to one you’re used to getting emails from, but it’s usually altered in a very subtle way to avoid immediate detection.
For example, you may receive emails from the lender at an address of “firstname.lastname@example.org”, but the hacker may create an email with a slight and almost unnoticeable twist on this, such as “email@example.com”, or “firstname.lastname@example.org”, or even “email@example.com”. (That last one was almost undetectable wasn’t it? If you’ve got an eagle eye, you’ll notice that the “0” in “john” for that last one was replaced with a zero instead.)
At this point the unsuspecting victim mistakenly sends funds to the scammer instead of the intended recipient, and by the time the error is realized, it’s too late and the scammer – and the money – are long gone.
There are ways you can protect yourself. Using secure passwords is an obvious one. Securing your email server and website in general is another important step, and any vendor in the banking industry these days has pretty much made this step the norm in their industry.
Also, never click on links that are inside an email that’s sent to you. These can be very easily spoofed and just end up re-directing you to right to them.
Another highly suggested best practice for any office to put into place would be to follow-up any email with wiring instructions – or more important, changes in wiring instruction – with a phone call to the email sender just to double check. A small “inconvenience” of picking up the phone and re-confirming instructions is definitely worth the “hassle” of making sure hundreds of thousands of dollars doesn’t go to the wrong person, never to be seen again.
When you do business with Cumberland Title you can feel confident that our staff is well-versed in best practices around this topic and have been trained in procedures to do our best to ensure the scenarios described above do not happen on our watch.