According to the FBI, Americans lost more than $50 million to real estate scams in 2018, which is a 1,000% increase from 2015. Those figures continue to be on a sharp rise as fraudsters are finding new ways to target the real estate industry. Last year alone, the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center received more than 300,000 complaints with reported losses of more than $1.4 billion. The real estate sector was heavily targeted with 9,645 victims who lost more than $56.2 million.

​A fraudster will hack into an email account and monitor communications to narrow down the time to strike. Once he/she has the timing down, the scammer will send an email posing as the client, agent or closing attorney's office requesting or altering wire instructions previously sent or received.

When a fraudster poses as a client, agent or closing attorney's office by using an email address that is very similar to the real email address. Often times, the fraudster's email address will have an extra character or symbol in the address making it look at first glance like the real thing. Many fraudsters even match the text within the body of the email to give it that extra feel of legitimacy. Be on the lookout for misspelled words, improper grammar or communications that sometimes feel robotic or out of the ordinary from previous communications.

Before email, communication via the fax machine was the most effective way to send/receive information quickly and with ease. With the rise of email scams, many in the real estate industry have turned back to the fax machine as a way to avoid such scams. However, fraudsters have found new and innovative schemes to use the fax machine as a way to scam individuals. At times, fraudsters will send altered wiring instructions to clients, agents and the closing attorney's office.

Here are just a few tips on how best to educate and protect yourself from becoming a victim of wire fraud:

  • The best way to protect yourself from becoming a victim of wire fraud is to provide the wiring instructions to the closing attorney in person so your identity and information can be verified.

  • Real estate agents should NEVER send or forward wire instructions from the closing attorney to their client and vice versa. Most victims of wire fraud have been the result of wire instructions being sent/received via an unsecured email.

  • Choose a closing attorney that offers secure methods of communication. Our firm has invested in MJH PORTAL, a secure web portal for our clients to send/receive communications safely. 

  • Always call the closing attorney's office to verify the wire instructions you have either received or sent.

  • Be extremely cautious if you receive any changes to the original wire instructions. Always call to verify.

What you should do right away if you believe you have fallen victim to wire fraud:

  • Notify your financial institution immediately to report the incident and ask they attempt to recall the funds.

  • Contact the local FBI field office to report the crime.

  • Contact the closing attorney's office. 

  • Notify any other parties involved in the transaction so they are aware of the situation.

For more detailed information on the types of fraud prevalent in the real estate industry today or if you believe you or your client is a victim of such fraud, contact the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).