Wire fraudsters relentless in phishing attempts for down payments, seller proceeds

Wire fraudsters relentless in phishing attempts for down payments, seller proceeds

A very serious cyber threat continues to loom over the homebuying process, and hyper-vigilance is presently the only way homebuyers and sellers, as well as real estate professionals, can protect themselves.

The threat is wire fraudsters, who remain relentless in their efforts steal homebuyers’ down payment funds and sellers’ net proceeds and are becoming increasingly deft at defrauding title companies and consumers alike. We’ve encountered multiple scams in which criminals attempted to phish away down payments and net proceeds funds belonging to unsuspecting to consumers.

How do these wire fraud scheme work?

As far as we can tell, the fraudsters are gaining entry to the email accounts of unsuspecting real estate agents probably through some kind of malware attack.

Once the criminals have access to the agent’s account, they scan the inbox looking for information they can use to make their email scams sound more legit, in particular property addresses, closing dates and the title company that will handle the closing.

Next the scammers create a phony email account that looks almost identical to the agent’s legit email account that was hacked – perhaps an extra hyphen or dash is the only difference. With the acquired bait and the phony email account in place, the trap is set.

The would-be victim receives an innocuous email. She recognizes the sender’s name because she has been working with that agent the past few weeks or even months leading up to the closing. If she is not paying close attention, she may not notice the sender’s email address is only slightly different from previous exchanges.

That’s when the defrauding occurs. The victim executes the wire transfer request and the money is gone. Fraudsters are becoming so clever they even time the delivery of their fraudulent emails to coincide with the actual dates and times of closing.

Homebuyers’ down payment funds at risk

In this scenario, the real estate agent’s email account has been compromised and the fraudsters have learned the agent is working with homebuyers and in the final stages of helping them purchase the new property.

With intel in hand, the fraudsters will reach out to the homebuyers from the phony agent email address a day or so prior to closing. The fraudster’s email directs them to wire their down payment funds to the title company’s escrow account in preparation of their big day. In this scam, the “title company’s” bank account belongs to the fraudsters.

We recommend homebuyers verify over the phone the authenticity of any wire transfer instructions just to be on the safe side, because once funds are transferred to the wrong account and cleared out by the cyber-criminals, they are virtually impossible to recover.

Sellers’ proceeds from home sale at risk

This version of the scam targets title companies more directly than consumers, but it’s worth noting because it can lead to a delay in the delivery of proceeds to the seller who may be planning to use them on the purchase of another property.

Just last month our title company spotted two of these wire fraud attempts. We received emails purporting to be from the real estate agent representing the property seller and referencing a property that was scheduled to close at our office. It was a different agent for each case, which suggests the scam may be becoming more widespread.

In the phony email the agent asked for our help wiring funds to the seller’s bank account. In this case, obviously, the scam is that the “seller’s” bank account belongs to fraudsters. What’s not always so obvious, though, are the clues to alert the would-be victim of the fraud that is taking place.

Just as we advise homebuyers, we verify over the phone the authenticity of any wire transfer instructions just to be on the safe side because, again, once funds are transferred to the wrong account and cleared out by the cyber criminals, those funds are virtually impossible to recover.

Many title companies purchase cyber fraud insurance as added protection against increasingly sophisticated wire fraud attempts, including ours. But understanding how the scheme works help avoid the hassle of filing a cyber fraud insurance claim.

Close It! House of the Week: Stunning Colonial home renovation in growing Petworth

Close It! House of the Week: Stunning Colonial home renovation in growing Petworth

This week we’re making our way over to Petworth to check out a stunning renovation that features a finished lower level that can serve as either an in-law suite or room for extra income. It’s listed for $874,900.

This colonial-style home is a 3BR / 3BA with a finished lower level, ideal for guest accommodations. The steel cable railings on the staircase are a nice design touch. The upper level boasts fabulous 10-foot ceilings and a luxurious master bathroom. The kitchen is gorgeous with white cabinets and marble counters.

Assuming a homebuyer puts down 20 percent on a conventional loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $198,275.95. Monthly payments will then be around $2,594.77. For a complete picture of cash-to-close, including the seller’s net proceeds from this home-sale scenario, check out the Close It! Web version or download the free Close It! iOS app.

Close It! House of the Week: Nicely updated, lots of room in Glover Park

Close It! House of the Week: Nicely updated, lots of room in Glover Park

This week we’re checking out a cooperative apartment nestled in quiet Glover Park, not far from the National Cathedral and several shops and restaurants. It’s listed for $299,000.

At 930 square feet, this 1BR / 1BA apartment is larger than most. The kitchen has been updated. There’s a large walk-in closet, and the living room and bedroom both have built-in bookcases for additional storage.

Assuming a homebuyer puts down 20 percent on a conventional loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $68,604.75. Monthly payments will then be around $2,527.29, which also includes the coop fee of $1,139. The coop fee includes property taxes, utilities and parking. For a complete picture of cash-to-close, including the seller’s net proceeds from this home-sale scenario, check out the Close It! Web version or download the free Close It! iOS app.

Close It! House of the Week: Bright unit with luxurious features in a super walkable location

Close It! House of the Week: Bright unit with luxurious features in a super walkable location

This week we’re venturing in the super walkable Columbia Heights neighborhood to check out a newly constructed 2BR / 2BA condo, the last unit for sale in a rowhouse conversion project. It’s listed for $649,000.

Dark hardwood flooring, exposed brick and quartz countertops are some of the special design features offered in this bright unit that lets in lots of sunlight through large windows. The master bathroom features a marbled-topped vanity and luxurious rain shower head.

Assuming a homebuyer puts down 20 percent on a conventional loan, her cash to close number will be approximately $148,130.61. Monthly payments will then be around $3,253.75, which also includes the HOA fee of $190. For a complete picture of cash-to-close, including the seller’s net proceeds from this home-sale scenario, check out the Close It! Web version or download the free Close It! iOS app.

Top D.C. real estate stories (Week of April 24)

Top D.C. real estate stories (Week of April 24)

Two former Olympians now working in D.C. commercial real estate, a banner war in Southwest, high hopes for D.C.'s spring real estate market and more in this week's top stories.

D.C. building bans balcony banners after residents use them to argue about politics | Washingtonian

The likely inspiration for this sudden order, according to one resident, was a rush of political banners in the past few months, starting with a “Trump: Make America Great Again” flag that appeared shortly after last November’s election.

D.C.'s missing middle | Urban Turf

Their income enables them to afford a monthly mortgage, although likely not a down payment, for a home.

This spring's real estate market likely to be busier than last year's | Curbed DC

Some of the factors that survey respondents said will contribute to a busier spring include an improved job market, more first-time homebuyers entering the market, more qualified buyers.

D.C. area tops the list for black, Latino homeownership rates, Trulia says | Washington Post

The D.C. area tops the list for the largest increase in black homeownership between 1990 and 2015, with a 9.6 percent rise.

7 former star athletes in D.C. commercial real estate | Bisnow

Commercial real estate is a competitive industry, and some of the top players in the DC market have backgrounds in high-level sports that set them up for high-stakes dealing.

  • Ways to save at closing

    Title charges are the largest chunk of closing costs and can vary by hundreds of dollars.

    Learn more

  • What are closing costs?

    The real estate closing process involves loan steps, legal steps and title steps.

    Learn more

  • What's title insurance?

    Insure your legal ownership just like you'd insure the building, but for lots cheaper.

    Learn more

Connect with us


Our blog contains general information only, not intended to be relied upon as, nor a substitute for, specific professional advice. Rate tables and figures that appear on our blog are deemed reliable but not guaranteed. For current rates & policies, refer to our Quick Quote and Consumer Guide. We accept no responsibility for loss occasioned to any purpose acting on or refraining from action as a result of any material on our blog.