We live in a world of digital transactions. Whether we’re paying bills, buying groceries, or splitting a check at dinner, more and more of our financial interactions are occurring online or on our phones. And while that does add a level of convenience to most situations, it also makes us more susceptible to fraud. When you’re closing on a property — possibly one of the biggest financial transactions of your life — you want to be sure that your hard-earned money is safe.
Escrow wire fraud has become alarmingly common, and it’s surprisingly easy to fall for. The way it works is simple — you get an email, phone call, or text message from someone claiming to be associated with your agent, broker, or other party involved in your transaction. At first it seems legitimate. The person contacting you sounds official and has the right information, they claim to be affiliated with someone you’re working with… who are you to question it, right? Just give them what they need and get back to your busy day.
And that’s exactly what they want you to do. Before you know it, they’ve cleaned out your accounts and headed for an exotic location while you’re left picking up the pieces. But not today, evil doers! Here are a few simple ways you can avoid being a victim:
Keep it to yourself.
Never, ever, ever, EVER give personal information (such as your bank account or social security number) to someone you have never spoken with. It doesn’t matter if they insist that they work with someone you do know — do not give them your information. Instead, tell the person that you would like to hear from your agent or broker directly, and hang up the phone. If they’re on the up and up, they’ll understand and have the right person contact you.
Know who you’re dealing with.
Look carefully at the phone number or email address trying to contact you. Hackers use spoofing technology that make it look like they’re coming from a familiar place, but when you look closely you’ll see that they’re off by one letter or number. It’s also important to pay attention to the URL or web domain listing — is that email coming from fbp-law.com, or fbp-law.co.au? If it’s a different address than what you’ve seen before, ignore the email and contact the right person immediately.
Stick with the plan.
Be wary of anyone trying to change information that you already have. For example, if you’ve been instructed by your broker to send money to a specific account, don’t trust a text message asking you to “make a last minute change” and send the money somewhere else. Always verify any additional instructions you receive with the right person.
Meet in person.
Do things the old fashioned way! It may seem archaic, but the more you can do in person the harder it is to be a victim of a scam. Request face-to-face meetings as often as possible. It’s easy to fake an email address, but it’s pretty much impossible to fake an actual human being standing in the same room as you.
Trust your gut!
If something seems fishy, it probably is. Never hesitate to ask questions or demand to speak to the right person. Don’t worry about seeming rude or “bothering” your agent or broker — any reputable real estate professional will tell you that they would much rather address your concerns than see you fall victim to a scam.
Escrow fraud can be scary, but it can also be easy to avoid. We’re always available to answer your questions and help keep you (and your money) safe!