Buying a House? 6 Ways to Protect Yourself from Email Scams (It’s More Common Than You Think!)
When you buy a home in today’s day and age, you have to be on high alert. With more and more real estate transactions conducted online, the potential for fraud and scams is huge.
The most common problem? That’d be what the FBI dubs “business email compromise.”
Basically, it’s when a fraudster hacks (or even just mimics) the email account of your real estate agent, mortgage lender, broker, title company, attorney, or another vendor in the process, using it against you.
They might ask you to wire your down payment to the wrong account (meaning you’d lose it forever), or they might ask for sensitive details like your bank data, W-2 info, Social Security number, and more. Either way, you lose, and the fraudster wins — usually big-time.
The Size of the Problem
Business email compromise isn’t just a rare occurrence in real estate. In fact, it’s downright common.
According to the FBI, Americans lost just under $150 million to internet fraud in 2018 — a large chunk of it BEC-related. In total, there were over 11,000 real estate victims in that time period alone.
Unfortunately, rates are rising, too. Between May 2018 and July 2019, BEC losses jumped 100%. It was reported in all 50 states and across 140 countries.
All this to say: BEC is a huge deal — and the chances of you falling victim are increasing.
What to Do About Business Email Compromise When Buying a Home
Real estate professionals are becoming more and more cognizant of the scams — and smart ones are constantly on the lookout. You may even see a warning at the bottom of your agent or lender’s email signature advising you to be wary, too.
But what exactly should you be looking for? And what else can you do to stay safe? Here’s what the FBI and industry experts recommend:
1. Always question and verify.
If something gets changed along the way (wiring details, who you make your cashier’s check out to, or even just a party in your transaction), always question it and verify it. Call up your agent or title company and make sure the email was legitimate. Ask to speak to whoever sent it.
You should also make sure you use the number listed on Google — not a number in the body of the potentially fraudulent email. BEC fraudsters are pretty advanced, and it’s not uncommon for them to set up dummy phone accounts to really seal the deal.
2. Check the sending email address carefully.
When you receive an email asking you for sensitive information or payment, then do a double- and triple-check of the sender’s address. What is the domain it’s coming from? Is everything spelled correctly? Sometimes, fraudsters will set up fake accounts with just one letter or number different ([email protected] vs. [email protected]).
Do your due diligence and make sure it’s actually coming from who you think it is.
3. Safeguard your logins.
Use two-factor identification on your email account, and choose difficult passwords for your lender’s portal, your bank account, and other platforms. Don’t share these login credentials with anyone and avoid saving them to Google Passwords or somewhere else that can be compromised. Your accounts are at just as much risk (if not more) than the industry pros you’re working with.
4. Watch your financials closely.
Keep a close eye on your bank accounts and credit as you go through your transaction. Make sure there aren’t any unusual charges or missing deposits and set up fraud alerts just to be safe. You want to recognize a potentially fraudulent charge as soon as it happens. This will maximize your chances of getting the funds back and, sometimes, even catching the criminal in the act.
5. Set up email safeguards.
In some email clients, you can change the settings to alert you anytime you receive a message from outside your organization (or outside a list of whitelisted organizations you choose). This can be a good way to flag any potentially fraudulent messages you might receive.
You can also usually install some sort of attachment and URL scanner. Since many fraudsters work by including some sort of malware in a link or attachment in their messages, this can keep you from infecting your computer and thereby exposing your information (and sometimes even that of your whole network).
6. Report it immediately.
Finally, if you think you might be the victim of fraud, contact your bank ASAP so they can put a stop on your payment (if you’ve wired funds to the wrong person, for example). Then, file a complaint at the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
We Take Real Estate Fraud Seriously
Here at Embrace Home Loans, we take fraud seriously, and we make every effort possible to safeguard our customers and their data. Are you worried about fraud and scams impacting your upcoming home purchase? Then get in touch with Embrace Home Loans. We’ll guide you through step by step, ensuring your safety at every turn.