Phishing, hacking, wire fraud — these are all ways people attempt to steal from others online. As our lives become more and more dependent upon cyberspace, the chances of being caught in a cyber scam have become even greater.
Most people have heard of the “Nigerian prince” scams or phishing emails asking for Social Security or banking information, but many people don’t realize they need to watch out for possible scams when buying or selling their homes. Cyber crimes have become increasingly sophisticated over the years. The people perpetrating them focus on situations where a lot of money is changing hands, making real estate transactions an ideal target.
The National Association of Realtors recently warned its members and consumers about a wiring scam that has occurred during the closing stage of the homebuying and selling process. Hackers will break into the email accounts of consumers and real estate professionals to get details about a real estate transaction. The hacker will then send an email to the buyer, for example, pretending to be someone involved in the closing process. The email says there has been a last-minute change and requests the buyer wire their down payment to a particular account. That account happens to belong to the hacker.
While it may seem like there are hundreds of ways for a criminal to take advantage of a consumer online, there are just as many ways consumers can protect themselves. Here are a few tips to help homebuyers and sellers avoid real estate scams:
Do not send sensitive information via email. Do not send banking information, your Social Security number or anything else that could be used to compromise your identity over email. Use only encrypted email if you absolutely must send personal or sensitive information.
Do not click on unverified email. If you do not recognize the name or email address of the sender, do not open the email. Beware of any attachments or downloadable files from unknown email addresses; they can contain viruses or provide a way for a hacker to access your computer.
Do not use unsecured Wi-Fi. Using an open connection can leave you vulnerable to hackers and scammers. Only access sensitive information on your home computer or on a secured network.
If you suspect fraud, tell someone. If you suspect that fraud has or is in the process of occurring, contact all parties in the transaction immediately. Also, report the incident to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center or the Federal Trade Commission.
Denise Creswell is president of the Greater Nashville Association of Realtors. A Realtor is a member of the National Association of Realtors who subscribes to its strict Code of Ethics. Contact her at 615-473-1663 or firstname.lastname@example.org.