The Federal Trade Commission and the National Association of Realtors® warn the public about phishers and the possible nightmare they can engineer to sabotage your real estate deals.
Saving for down payment money means years of hard work for many Americans. That’s why losing your hard earned money to fraudsters in just a matter of seconds can be devastating financially and emotionally.
This very nightmare is exactly what happened to couple Cemal and Derya Biryol who, after years of saving and months of searching for their dream home, were finally excited to move and close the deal.
Everything went on smooth as a breeze until they received an email from their closing attorney asking them for the down payment money.
The email which posed as legit from their trusted attorney included the down payment amount which totalled to $53,194.48. It also contained their insurance information and even warned the couple of fraud.
After Cemal wired the funds and emailed their realtor to look into them, the realtor rang them back to inform them that the money has been wired to a different bank.
“I almost started crying,” Cemal said. “I felt ashamed, or helpless, because it’s all (Derya’s) savings, together it’s all our savings, and I just sent it to someone else in a matter of seconds.”
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Beware of phishers
The couple is among the many Americans who had been victims of phishers and their fradulent activities in the past few years.
The scam is performed by hackers who break into emails of attorneys and realtors and gain information on real estate transactions that are about to close.
The hacker takes note of the closing dates, they then clone the emails. When a closing date is near, they send an email to the clients/buyers asking for the down payment and informing them that there has been a change in the wiring instructions.
Once the buyer takes the bait and wires the money to the hacker’s account, it is usually hard for them to recover their funds.
Fortunately, in the Biryol’s case, they were able to take back the money after their local police’s financial department jumped in and helped.
The Federal Trade Commission and the National Association of Realtors® have already issued a public warning about the said real estate scam, urging the public to be more vigilant and extra careful in conducting online transactions.
The FTC says that real estate professionals and title companies know better than to ask you to conduct or complete transactions or even exchange information via email.
They recommend you to take the following action to avoid being victimized by phishers:
- Do not use email to exchange financial information. Most of the time, it is not secure.
- If you are going to give your financial information via the web, see to it that you are on a secure site. To know if a site is secure, the beginning of the URL should start with an HTTPS, not just HTTP. Instead of clicking on a link to go to an organization’s website, look up the real URL and type it in the web address bar yourself.
- Be careful about opening attachments or downloading files from emails, regardless of who sent them. These files may contain malware that may compromise the security of your computer.
- Always update your operating system, your browser, as well as your security software.
If you are suspicious about the authenticity of an email, you may report it directly to the FTC.