Scammers have used email to defraud consumers for years, with increasing levels of sophistication. But a recent ‘phishing’ operation is once again putting people’s bank accounts in the cross-hairs.
This time, the target is prospective homebuyers.
Here’s how it works: Hackers break into the email account of a consumer or real estate professional to determine the date of an upcoming closing. They then use that information to send a fraudulent email to the buyer, posing as one of the professionals involved in the transaction.
The email contains wiring instructions that are allegedly tied to the closing, but which actually rout directly to the scammer’s account. If a buyer is fooled, they may see their bank account wiped out.
In an effort to keep consumers one step ahead, the Federal Trade Commission and the National Association of REALTORS® are working together to make sure prospective buyers are in the know.
NAR President Tom Salomone condemned the scam, encouraging prospective buyers to stay alert.
“Buying a home should be an exciting event, but sadly an email and money-wiring scam is underway targeting consumers’ sensitive financial information,” said Salomone. “We’re working with the Federal Trade Commission to shine a bright light on this criminal activity and help protect prospective homeowners.”
The FTC offered some advice to consumers in a blog post late last week, noting that “if you’re buying a home and get an email with money-wiring instructions, STOP.” In addition to avoiding the scam, the FTC had a number of proactive suggestions to protect against similar crimes.
Here’s what the FTC had to say:
- “Don’t email financial information. It’s not secure.”
- “If you’re giving your financial information on the web, make sure the site is secure. Look for a URL that begins with https (the “s” stands for secure). And, instead of clicking a link in an email to go to an organization’s site, look up the real URL and type in the web address yourself.”
- “Be cautious about opening attachments and downloading files from emails, regardless of who sent them. These files can contain malware that can weaken your computer’s security.”
- “Keep your operating system, browser, and security software up to date.”
Just as important, the FTC urged consumers to report phishing scams to the FTC for further action.