Blog, Just ask Julie
Dec 2, 2019
Q: Julie, a friend of mine in another state recently had a large sum of money stolen when they wired money for the closing on their home. How does this happen and what can be done to protect ourselves from such scams?
A: I’m sorry to hear that your friends fell foul to Cyber Criminals and became a victim of the Wire Fraud Scam. How does this happen? Cyber-criminals have become very good at monitoring real estate transactions on sites such as Zillow to see when properties go under contract. They’ll then send an email to the listing agent and perhaps, the seller by finding their email address via public record searches. That email, unrelated to the transaction, is often phishing for an email login by getting the recipient to click on a link that takes them to a fake website that looks like their normal email login page. Just the other day, everyone at our company received such an email supposedly addressed from our support team, asking us to sign in to resolve some email issues – the request even had our logo in the email and a link to an official-looking page to login with username and password to the respective email account. Someone was trying to get our email information and passwords so that they could hack into our accounts, find out what real estate transactions we were working on so that they could send false wiring instructions just prior to closing and divert funds to their own accounts. Amazing! Thank goodness we teach everyone in our team to how to spot such brazen attempts.
It’s not just financial institutions the hackers are targeting. From shopping on Amazon to searching homes on Zillow we live in a world that provides us almost instantaneous convenience. We rely on the internet so much these days it’s hard to imagine our lives without it. Unfortunately, for all the ease and convenience we enjoy, the internet is fraught with the danger of our personal information falling into the wrong hands, having identities stolen and being duped out our hard-earned money.
I’m sure like me, you also see at least one or two scam emails a week trying to elicit your personal login information or link to a fraudulent website that will provide a cyber-criminal access to our online accounts.
In 2018 the FBI reported that real estate internet scams cost Americans around $150 million in losses a figure that is expected to grow rapidly as the crooks just get more and more clever every day.
What can you do to make sure you minimize your risks of being caught up in such a scam be it related to your real estate dealings or your day to day online activities?
Online scams are not the only way criminals are trying to extort money. Telephone scams are becoming increasingly prevalent. Such scams include getting calls from “Microsoft Security” to tell you they detected a virus on your computer and they can ‘help’ you get rid of it, or a recorded message saying that you’re being investigated by the IRS and need to call immediately to stop legal action. Yet another disturbing one is targeting the elderly with a call from a distressed “relative” such as a ‘grandson’ who is in trouble and urgently needs money transferred via a Western Union money order or payment by purchasing gift cards.
Nobody is safe from cybercriminals and scammers. However, by taking simple precautions and being aware of the tactics the criminals use we can all lower the odds of being the next victim. I hope you’ll find the tips and resources helpful and share them with everyone you know.
Below are some additional helpful resources.
FBI Internet Crime Prevention Tips: https://www.ic3.gov/preventiontips.aspx#item-7
The FTC also has an extensive list of scams here: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/scam-alerts
Along with the ten things to do to avoid scams: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0060-10-things-you-can-do-avoid-fraud
Explore Fraud Facts by State here: https://public.tableau.com/profile/federal.trade.commission#!/vizhome/FraudReports/FraudFacts
If you want to make a little piece of The Island your own, you need more than just a road map and a REALTOR. You need a partner who can make things happen.
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