At yesterday’s Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS® (SILVAR) Cupertino/Sunnyvale District tour meeting, Carol Burnett, vice president and managing broker of Alain Pinel Realtors Saratoga, warned members about hackers who have been breaking into email accounts of buyers and real estate agents in order to get information about upcoming real estate transactions. She said the National Association of REALTORS® (NAR) has urged all REALTORS®, their clients and other real estate professionals to be on high alert for these email and money wiring scams, also known as mortgage phishing scams.

Scammers are hacking into email accounts and using information about a real estate transaction to trick people, often home buyers, into a fraudulent wire transfer. The hacker sends a bogus email, which appears to be legitimate, informing the buyer that there has been a last minute change to the wiring instructions. The email instructs the buyer to wire closing costs to a different account, which is actually the scammer’s account. If the buyer takes the bait, they could lose all that money in a matter of minutes.

Burnett said a similar scam happened to an agent in their office and their client, a first-time home buyer. The buyer received a phone call from someone claiming to be a representative of the title company who told the buyer to wire the closings costs of $500,000 to a different account. When the scam was discovered, all parties were immediately contacted, including the FBI. The buyer was able to recover most of the money, but not all. Not all buyers are as lucky, said Burnett.

Online scams targeting REALTORS® and their clients are on the rise. Burnett has learned other agents and clients in the Bay Area have been victims of these mortgage phishing scams. One victim lost close to a million dollars.

“This is really an important, serious matter. You have got to be careful,” Burnett told members.

Burnett shared the following tips to avoid being a victim of these mortgage phishing scams for REALTORS® and their clients.
• Never send any wiring information in an email.
• Always introduce the title company representative to your client.
• Put the phone number and other contact information of another party directly into your phone. Do not take it off an email that has been sent to you.
• Do not wire money until you get the okay from the title company.
• If you are instructed to wire money to a bank outside California, don’t. All banks have offices in the state.

See more Prevention and Damage Control Tips from NAR.

 

 

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