Home Buying Digitally: How to Stay Safe While You Do It
A lot of the home buying process is now done online — especially during the pandemic.
Buyers are taking virtual tours, signing contracts on their phone, Zooming with their real estate agent, and, in many cases, even attending their closing appointment remotely.
While home buying digitally is incredibly convenient — not to mention good for social distancing — it does add extra risk for those involved in the transaction (specifically, for their personal information).
Are you prepping to buy a home? You’ll probably do a good chunk of it online. Here’s how to stay safe along the way.
Online safety when you’re home buying digitally
1. Look for the lock.
You’ll probably need to enter information into a website or two at some point. It might be when you’re inquiring about a listing, reaching out to potential real estate agents, or contacting mortgage lenders, or it could be just to schedule an inspection or set up your home insurance policy.
Whatever the reason, always double-check the web address before you enter any information. Make sure the site has an “https” in front of it (the “S” means secure”) and that there’s a little lock icon in the search bar. This indicates the website has a Secure Sockets Layer, which will encrypt your data before transmitting it over the web.
2. Avoid sharing too much over email.
If you communicate with anyone over email when you’re home buying digitally — your agent, your loan officer, your home inspector, etc. — keep it light and brief. Don’t write your Social Security Number or banking details in the body of the message, and don’t attach important documents like your bank statements, tax returns, or other data-filled papers to the email.
For these more detailed bits of information, stick to secure portals (your lender will usually give you one to upload your documents) or a good old phone call. This ensures your data can’t get stolen and used for other purposes.
3. Double-check any payment details over the phone.
Wire fraud is a serious threat (and it almost happened to me last time I bought a house!) It’s caused thousands of people to lose their down payments, their life savings, and their dream homes, and it’s something all buyers — and their agents, title agents, and loan officers — should take very, very seriously.
Here’s how it typically works: You get an email from your title agent a few days before your closing appointment with details about wiring your down payment and closing costs. There’s a bank account number and routing numbers, and you’re instructed to wire XX amount on XX day in order to close on your home.
The only problem? It’s not really your title agent. It’s a fraudster using an email address that looks very similar to your agent’s (maybe it’s one letter off). They might have even copied your agent’s exact email signature. Either way, their intent is for you to wire that money to their bank account — not your title company’s — so they can abscond with it.
The moral of the story: Don’t ever wire money without first verifying the transfer details when you’re home buying digitally. If you get wire transfer instructions over an email, call up your title agent directly and make sure it’s the right information before taking action.
4. Be extra cautious with incoming emails.
Phishing is common in the real estate world. Like mentioned above, a scammer may create a new email address that looks very similar to someone actually involved in the transaction — your agent, the seller’s agent, someone at the title company, etc. This isn’t always to commit wire fraud either; sometimes it’s just to steal your identity or commit some other sort of scam.
For these reasons, it’s critical you’re extra cautious about emails related to your transaction when you’re home buying digitally. If you receive a message from someone you believe is involved in the deal — particularly one requesting information, look at the “from” address very carefully. Is it the right spelling and domain name? Does it match other emails you’ve received from them before? Is the phone number in the signature functioning? If you’re even slightly suspicious, call up the person you think is contacting you (use the public phone number on their company’s website), and make sure.
5. Steer clear of public Wi-Fi networks.
It can be tempting to do a little house searching or even applying for your mortgage loan while out and about. After all, many lenders have mobile-friendly applications these days, so why not?
The problem is your connection while you’re away from home. If you’re at Starbucks, connected to the Wi-Fi network at work, or on some other shared network, it means your device is vulnerable — and so is any information you transmit over it.
If you’re going to input any sensitive information, always make sure you’re on a safe, secure, and private network.
Purchase your home safely when you’re home buying digitally
Embrace Home Loans takes information security seriously, and we’ll make sure your data is protected every step of the way. To learn more about our processes or to get pre-approved for your loan, get in touch with an Embrace loan officer in your area today.