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New crime scheme steals a buyer’s home deposit
ORLANDO, Fla. – Jan. 10, 2014
A new type of theft steals homebuyers’ deposits shortly before closing. While Florida has had only one confirmed case so far, Realtors should be wary, according to Florida Realtors lawyers.
1. Criminals hack into Realtors’ email accounts – often Gmail or Hotmail – without being detected.
2. The scammers then continuously search emails for discussions of upcoming closings.
3. When scammers have learned enough about an upcoming closing – such as the amount of the deposit, names of one or both parties and/or the identity of the entity holding the deposit – they take action.
4. With closing information in hand, the fraudsters send an email to the entity holding the deposit from the Realtor’s email address, so it appears legitimate with the Realtor’s normal signature, links to social media pages, etc. The fake email often has legitimate attachments – e.g. the escrow disclosure and agreement, or the purchase and sales contract – if they appeared earlier in a Realtor’s email.
5. The email directs the holder of the deposit to wire the money to an entity owned by the fraudsters. The name of this entity appears to be a closing or title agency office.
If the deposit holder wires the funds as requested in the email, the money is then gone for good – it’s been stolen from the deposit holder’s account by fraud.
What can Realtors do to avoid becoming a victim?
Always verify emails asking to transfer deposits by phone with all parties involved in the transaction. Use only known, legitimate phone numbers – not phone numbers obtained from the deposit transfer request email.
Be especially cautious when the wiring instructions reference a bank branch or entity located outside Florida.
Advise all transaction parties of the scheme and ask them to be on the lookout for responses to emails they have not sent. An unexpected email response may indicate that their email accounts have been hacked.
EDITOR’S NOTE: On the surface this looks like a Real Estate Agent, Homebuyer, Homeseller problem, but if they can hack these accounts they can hack anyone’s. If you have sensitive information being used in your emails you should also be on the look-out for this scam. Stay safe out there!
SOURCE: © 2013 Florida Realtors®
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