By Anthony Messineo | Audit Director

Buying a home is a huge investment, both financially and emotionally. From finding the perfect property to navigating the complex legal processes, there are many hurdles to overcome. And there is another threat lurking in the shadows – wire fraud. Westcor is here to help. Imagine discovering that the money you wired in order to close the deal on your dream home had disappeared with no hope of getting it back. This is the reality for many home buyers who have fallen victim to this growing scam. In this blog post, we will discuss some of the scariest wire fraud stories in real estate to highlight the importance of protecting your money.

The case of the fake seller

One of the most common types of wire fraud in real estate involves scammers impersonating the seller and providing alternative bank account details. The unsuspecting buyer then wires the funds to the fraudulent account, only to discover that the seller has not received any funds. In one case, a couple in California was scammed out of $775,000 after the scammers hacked the seller’s email account and provided false wiring instructions. Always double-checking the authenticity of the seller’s information, such as calling the seller or using a secure payment method like a cashier’s check, can help protect you from falling victim to this scheme.

The case of the fraudulent title company

Imagine going through the entire home buying process, finding the perfect property, and wiring the money to a well-respected title company. The next thing you know, you discover that the title company has been replaced by a fraudulent company that has disappeared with your funds. In a landmark case, a victim in Ohio lost almost $200,000 after the scammers had ingeniously cloned the website and phone numbers of a respected title company.

The case of the fraudulent attorney

In another common scheme, scammers impersonate the buyer’s attorney and provide false wiring instructions. The unsuspecting victim then wires the funds over to the fraudulent account. In one heart-breaking case, a Chicago couple celebrating the birth of their first child wired $272,000 to a fraudulent account after receiving fake emails from their lawyer. The real horror was only discovered when the couple’s attorney informed them that no funds had been received.

The case of the hacked real estate agent

Real estate agents can also fall victim to wire fraud. In one instance, a real estate agent in Texas had her email account hacked, and the scammers sent fraudulent wiring instructions on her behalf. As a result, an unsuspecting buyer wired $80,000 to the fraudulent account. Always double-check any wiring instructions received via email, and verify any such information by phone as well.

The case of the fraudulent overseas transfer

Scammers target overseas buyers with fake companies and relay agents who apparently ‘help’ with the transfer of funds. In this case, the victim is solicited to transfer a specified amount of money into an escrow account representing both the buyer and seller and is then given forged information to transfer the funds to another foreign account. One affected individual wired $1.9 million to such an account in Hong Kong, Singapore, and other locations, believing they were following escrow instructions when they were not.

Unfortunately, wire fraud in real estate is a real and growing threat. There are criminals out there trying to steal your fortune. It’s essential that title agents and home buyers keep themselves informed about the various scams and the steps they can take to protect themselves from falling victim. Westcor encourages simple actions like double-checking wiring instructions, speaking to the seller directly, or using secure payment methods can help avoid being one of the many victims of wire fraud. Stay vigilant and stay safe.