I have been reporting to you about this particular scam preying upon home buyers for three years. Earlier this summer, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) issued a warning about the scam and its dramatic increase. This week there were reports about the scam causing a real estate purchaser in Ballinger, Texas to wire $175,000 to a scammer. The scam targets people involved in the purchase and sales of residential real estate. The scam begins with the hacking into the email accounts of any of the various people involved in the sale. This can be either the buyer, seller, lawyers, title company, real estate agent or mortgage banker. 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 launder the money by moving the funds from account to account to make it difficult to trace the funds. According to the CFPB these scams have increased 1,100 percent between 2015 and 2017 causing losses of almost a billion dollars in 2017.
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.
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.
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