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Criminals continue to hack email accounts and many are targeting REALTORS® and their clients. This scam is especially alarming in the Bay Area because home prices are high, inventory is low, and buyers are trying to close deals quickly because of the competitive market.

According to a recent news report, the email of a REALTOR® was hacked by criminals who had monitored the REALTOR®’s correspondence with her client. When it came time for the client to wire the remainder of the down payment to close escrow, the hackers sent an email message from the REALTOR®’s account to her client telling them to wire the money to a fraudulent account. Luckily, the amount was off and the client called the REALTOR® to verify the amount.

REALTORS® and their clients need to be on high alert for email and online fraud. The Silicon Valley Association of REALTORS® is asking REALTORS® to follow and share with their clients these prevention tips issued by the National Association of REALTORS®:

  • Immediately contact all parties to all of your upcoming transactions and inform them of the possibility of this fraud. Attorneys, escrow agents, buyers, sellers, real estate agents, and title agents have all been targeted in these scams. You can also download and distribute NAR’s online fraud prevention handout, accessible here.
  • If possible, do not send sensitive information via email. If you must use email to send sensitive information, use encrypted email.
  • Immediately prior to wiring any money, the person sending the money must call the intended recipient to verify the wiring instructions. Only use a verified telephone number to make this call.
  • Do not trust contact information in unverified emails. The hackers will recreate legitimate-looking signature blocks with their own telephone number.
  • Never click on any links in an unverified email. In addition to leading you to fake websites, these links can contain viruses and other malicious spyware that can make your computer – and your transactions – vulnerable to attack.
  • Tell your clients that if an email or a telephone call ever seems suspicious or “off,” that they should refrain from taking any action until the communication has been independently verified as legitimate.
  • Clean out your email account on a regular basis. Your emails may establish patterns in your business practice over time that hackers can use against you. In addition, a longstanding backlog of e-mails may contain sensitive information from months or years past. You can always save important emails in a secure location on your internal system or hard drive.
  • Change your usernames and passwords on a regular basis, and make sure your employees and licensees do the same.
  • Make sure to implement the most up-to-date firewall and anti-virus technologies in your business.

 

 

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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