Scammers stealing home down payments

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The real-estate industry has been plagued by hackers who target closings on home purchases. National Association of Realtors (NAR) Associate Counsel Jessica Edgerton is concerned that related scams will increase.

“One of the common methods is a scammer will gain access to an attorney’s or real-estate broker’s email account,” says Bruce Ailion of Re/Max Town & Country.

According to Todd Spodek of Spodek Law Group, scammers follow real-estate transactions throughout the process. Ailion says that when an attorney who is involved in a closing sends an email that includes a preliminary settlement statement to a real-estate agent, a scammer latches on to that information and creates an account that’s similar to that of the attorney or the agent. The scammer then sends instructions for how to wire the purchase’s down payment or full purchase price (in the case of a cash transaction). The funds end up being wired to the scammer’s account.

“The cybercriminals are extremely sophisticated, because they will monitor the transaction from start to near closing and wait to strike until the very last step before closing,” Spodek says.

Edgerton suspects that it’s difficult to catch the criminals, because a significant number of these scammers operate outside of the United States. “These individuals know how to safeguard themselves from detection.”

Real-estate industry experts report that you should confirm bank-routing and account numbers over the phone before you wire funds. Don’t confirm the numbers through email.