We have received notice of a scam that is gaining momentum and has been affecting REALTORS® across the country.
Realtors: Be on alert if you receive an inquiry through Zillow or another third party data facilitator. It begins with a customer sending you an email with a listing and stating they want a home similar to the one they are sending you. You should consider not responding if you have not had previous communications or have worked with this customer before because once you email them back they gain access to your email account.
These scammers have been particularly focusing on real estate agents with GMail or Hotmail email accounts. The perpetrator’s have been hacking the email accounts looking for closing wiring instructions contained in the body of emails. Once found, they are notifying the buyer and changing the wiring instructions for the wire to be sent to a trust account in N.Y. The money then appears to be transferred outside the United States.
The scam works like this:
- The REALTOR’s® email account (often a Gmail or Hotmail account) is hacked without their knowledge.
- The scammer monitors the REALTOR’s® emails for discussions about upcoming closings.
- When they have gathered some details about the closing (amount of the deposit, names of one or both parties in the transaction, the identity of the entity holding the deposit), they strike!
- The evil-doer sends an email to the entity holding the deposit from the REALTOR’s® email address. This email appears genuine in every way. It will have the REALTOR’s® signature, links to their social media pages, and show the REALTOR® as the sender.
- This email will often have legitimate documents as attachments such as the purchase contract or escrow receipts.
- This request will fraudulently direct the holder to wire the deposit to an entity owned by the scammer. The name of this entity typically appears to be a closing or title agency office.
- If the deposit holder wires the funds as requested, that money is then gone for good – it has been stolen from the deposit holder’s account by fraud and will probably not be recovered.
What can you do to avoid becoming a victim of this scam?
- Always verify emails asking you to transfer deposits by phone with the REALTOR® and all parties involved in the transaction. Use only known, legitimate phone numbers (not phone numbers obtained from the deposit transfer request email).
- Be cautious when the wiring instructions reference a bank branch or entity located outside of Kansas.
- Share this with your fellow realtors, buyers and friends and remind them to be on the lookout for responses to emails they have not sent. These response emails may be an indication that their email accounts have been hacked.
Recently a Wichita agent was targeted in this scam and their buyer lost $180,000! The real estate agent and company are now involved in an FBI investigation and will be involved in an E&O settlement.
Click here to read about another news report from Michigan about this terrible scam.