On January 20th’s Scam of the day, I first told you about an intricate email scam targeting people involved in the sales of residential real estate that has increased over the past year both in the United States and the UK. I mention it again today because of recent reports of this scam occurring in the small town of Dewey Oklahoma where Lacey Monday became a victim of the scam. The scam begins with the hacking into the email account of one of the parties involved with a residential real estate conveyance. This can be either the buyer, seller, lawyers, title company, real estate agent or banker. In Lacey Monday’s case it was her title company whose email was hacked. Unfortunately, hacking into email accounts is a relatively easy thing for a skilled identity thief to do. The hackers then monitor the communications regarding the progress of the sale of a particular piece of real estate and when the time is right, generally posing as one of the lawyers, title company or bank mortgage officer, the scammer will email the buyer, telling him or her that funds necessary to complete the sale need to be wired to the phony lawyer’s, title company’s or banker’s account provided in the email. Everything appears normal so unsuspecting buyers too often are wiring the money to the cyberthieves who then move the funds from account to account to make it difficult to trace the funds. In Lacey Monday’s case, she lost $25,000 to this scam. The fact that this scam can occur in small towns as well as large cities show how these types of scams are a threat to you regardless of where you live.
Even if you are not involved in buying or selling a home, it is always a good idea to protect your email account from being hacked. This means having a strong password and security question. You can find information about how to pick strong passwords and security questions here in the Scamicide archives as well as in my book “Identity Theft Alert.” Maintain good anti-virus and anti-malware software on all of your electronic devices including your computer as well as your smartphone and keep your security software up to date with the latest security patches as soon as they are made available. Don’t click on links in emails or text messages that may contain malware that can steal your personal information from your electronic devices and remember, your security software is always at least thirty days behind the latest malware.
Don’t use public wifi for any financial or business purposes. Use a virtual private network to encrypt your data when using your electronic devices in public. Never provide personal information in response to an email regardless of how legitimate it may appear until you have independently confirmed that the email is legitimate. Finally, whenever you are asked through an email or text message to wire funds as a part of a real estate or other business transaction, don’t do so until you have confirmed that the request and the account to which you are being asked to wire the funds are legitimate. Appearances can be deceiving so always confirm. It may seem a bit paranoid, but remember, even paranoids have enemies.