Real estate wire fraud is a sophisticated scam targeting individuals making wire transfer payments during the home buying process. Unknowingly, victims send wire transfers to the account of criminals who are pretending to be real estate and title industry professionals involved in the transaction. FBI data show that in 2018, 11,300 victims across America lost a combined $149 million due to real estate wire fraud – a 166% increase in the total money lost compared to 2017.
A new organization, the Coalition to Stop Real Estate Wire Fraud, plans to raise awareness and educate consumers, especially potential home buyers, about how to protect themselves from becoming victims.
In a press call announcing the coalition, Rich Hopen, a real estate professional and victim of real estate wire fraud shared his own personal experience: “After our $239,000 mortgage payoff was stolen, my wife and I were distraught and afraid that we would be ruined financially. If this can happen to me, as a real estate professional, it’s clear it can happen to anyone. The new coalition is a big step forward toward ensuring that all parties involved in the home buying process – especially the consumer - know how to protect themselves from a version of what unfortunately happened to me.”
Tom Linehan, executive vice president at BankUnited, advised the importance of being “extra vigilant and suspicious and plan on confirming and verifying everything. We want to make sure consumers know the risk and urgency of the problem and the concrete steps they can take to stay protected.”
While it’s important to educate all consumers about the threat of wire transfer fraud, first-time homebuyers are especially vulnerable to this crime. As a result, the coalition is launching a consumer-facing digital advertising campaign in Birmingham, AL; Pittsburgh, PA; and Virginia Beach, VA - cities where the share of millennial homeownership increased the most from 2016 to 2017 and are favorable to first-time homebuyers. These markets also will receive additional support to ensure that local partners and stakeholders spread the word and share best practice recommendations.
The coalition outlines easy steps that consumers and professionals can follow to combat real estate wire fraud.
• Be vigilant; call don’t email: Confirm your wiring instructions by phone using a known number before transferring funds. Don’t use phone numbers or links from an email. • Be suspicious: It’s uncommon for title companies to change wiring instructions and payment info by email. • Forward, don’t reply: When responding to an email, hit forward instead of reply and then start typing in the person’s email address. • Confirm everything. Ask your bank to confirm the name on the account before sending a wire. • Verify immediately: Call the title company or real estate agent to validate that the funds were received. The sooner it is detected that money has been sent to a wrong account, the better chance you have of recovering the money.
• Warn Early and Often: Make sure your clients know about the growing and looming threat of real estate wire transfer fraud. • Educate: Remind your client that you will not send changes to wiring instructions or payment information • Call: Tell your client to call you to confirm all wiring instructions, and soon after they make any wire transfers. • Create: Within your company, establish a rapid response plan for wire fraud incidents.