If you’ve emailed with a real estate agent, a lender or a title insurance company lately, you may have seen a banner across the bottom of the message warning against the danger of email hacking. Scammers have been targeting real estate professionals and home buyers in recent years, hoping to trick buyers into wiring funds for their purchase to the scammer’s account.
Unfortunately for Aaron Cole, a home buyer in Portland, Ore., the scams sometimes work. Shortly before Christmas, Cole and his family were set to close on the purchase of their new house. The email Cole received, supposedly from WFG National Title Insurance Co., instructed him to wire the down payment of $123,000 to an email address that looked like WFG’s account. By the time Cole discovered that he had wired the funds to a scammer, the money had been transferred through five banks and out of the country. The Coles were able to purchase their home after WFG hired Cole as a spokesperson for their campaign against cybercrime and email scams.
An investigation confirmed that the title company’s email was clear and hadn’t been hacked, so more than likely a personal email of someone involved in the transaction had been hacked. Personal email accounts are typically not encrypted the way email accounts of financial services companies are protected. Unsecure email accounts and mobile devices are particularly at risk, according to WFG.
Consumers should always verify that an email address is legitimate before sending sensitive information. If you plan to wire funds, it’s best to call the title company or lender to verify transfer instructions. If you receive last minute instructions with different information than what you were initially given or are asked to transfer money quickly, those should be red flags that could indicate a scam attempt, according to WFG.