One of the biggest issues we find is that people are trying to cut corners, give their family or friend the business when they are barely qualified to participate in this transaction. They want to use Uncle Ernie who has a mortgage license he’s used twice. Uncle Ernie then wants to use his buddy who owns, “one horse title company” and does everything via email. Let’s cover a few things wrong with “saving a bit of money” and helping a friend’s business. This is your HOME, your BIGGEST investment.
When we catch up on business news over coffee, Lori and I are saddened by these increasingly common stories of wire transfer fraud. We want to help anyone out there prevent this story from becoming their own. Recently, a man and his family had saved for years to purchase their dream home. They had been going back and forth with so many people in this transaction that when it came time for funding, he was handling items remotely and responded to a text containing information from his “title company” about wiring the money to complete the transaction. In the excitement for their new home, he followed the instructions, kept an appointment with a client and checked in with his wife. This was when his heart sank as he learned that the money did transfer, but not to where he expected. Instead it was taken from his account and sent to an offshore account owned by someone or some company that managed to digitally eavesdrop on this transaction enabling them to imitate the actual title company. The family was not only out the $123,000, but they had no home and no way to finance a new home. The money was not recovered and no one was caught. We invite you to share this out to your friends and family.
Know these things:
- Reputable title companies are once again preferring cashier’s check as an option because it is more secure than wire transfer.
- An AGENT will never request funds, nor will their firm. The TITLE company handles the funding.
- Title company sends the first title information via email and will request you to set up two-step authentication. If you get a follow up email from the title company, forward it to your agent or give them a call to verify it’s legitimate. NO legitimate title company will send you documents in PDF format via email for signing. They will not request sensitive information via email. REPUTABLE companies such as Cherry Creek Title give you a 2-step authenticated login to a securely encrypted portal.
- A title company will NEVER change their phone number. If you receive any correspondence or phone call claiming that they changed their number, are having problems with their regular email, CALL YOUR AGENT IMMEDIATELY. Check the email address – make sure it’s from the company. CLICK ON NOTHING!
- The risk isn’t the earnest money, the risk is the loan money.
- If the listing agent is going through a specific title company, seller can request their own title company. We use specific title companies and lenders for a reason – we have NEVER had a security issue or “holes” in the transaction. It’s always smooth and secure.
- Title insurance protects the buyer, not the seller.
Perhaps just one of these tips could help them avoid this story from becoming theirs. If you are a buyer in a real estate transaction and someone reaches out to you regarding funding or personal information, your first phone call should be to your agent. We will check out the number for you to ensure it’s an authentic message. The FBI posted a variation on this list of tips. We added a few things based on our own experience:
- In any major transaction, always have a list of specific contacts with email and direct lines. If you are our client, we will create that list for you. If you have any questions you can ask us and we will follow up to ensure your information and money are safe.
- We will provide wiring instructions to you directly, if we are going that route for funding.
- ALWAYS forward to us any email you receive regarding the wiring or transfer of funds. We will verify the validity. Send us screenshots of any texts for the same.
- NEVER send Social Security, bank account or credit card numbers via email. We will provide a SECURE, ENCRYPTED portal for you if we are doing portions or the entire transaction online.
- NEVER, EVER click on links or attachments in unverified email.
- Lock down your bank accounts to use two-step authentication. This is a bit more cumbersome, but worth it. Once set up, whenever someone attempts to login to your account, you’ll be alerted via text with a code. Do not set this up to send you an email, as someone may have already hacked into that.
- Also, if you have been sent an email with a link to set up 2-step verification, do not go to the link. Go directly to the website for your bank to set it up to ensure you aren’t reacting to a fake email sending you to a fake bank website. These unsavory guys are good. They can match it all the way to convince you it’s really your bank’s site. The URL at the top may be some variation of your bank’s actual URL such as, “home.loanschase.com – or something misleading like that.
- Be wary of phone calls. They may know the name of your bank and in the excitement and list of tasks for your home purchase or sale, may get you to divulge compromising information about your account and finances. Tell them you’ll call the person you usually deal with at your branch. Or call your agent to verify.
- Do not wire money to cover upfront fees for a loan.
- If you suspect fraud, IMMEDIATELY contact your bank, escrow and real estate agents. File a complaint with the FBI at www.ic3.gov as well as local police. Keep ALL related emails, voicemails and texts related to this incident.