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Western Title: 5 tips to prevent wire fraud when buying a home

Patrick Harris

Special to the NNBW

Be sure to check all the safety boxes, especially from a cybersecurity standpoint, en route to buying the home of your dreams.
Photo: Getty Images
EDITOR'S NOTE: This article first published in the 2020 edition of Northern Nevada Smart Money, a specialty publication of the Northern Nevada Business Weekly that came out July 22. Go here to read the digital version.

Buying a home is one of the largest financial investments of your lifetime. At the close of escrow, a prospective homebuyer will need to pay a down payment, lender fees, escrow fees, and more, amounting to 2% to 5% of the purchase price of their new home.

Little do they know, that chunk of change is in danger of theft, and not by pickpockets. Cyber criminals are hard at work to steal these funds, and with one email, those funds could be lost for good.

Just last year, more than $1.7 billion was stolen through wire fraud, “wires” being electronic money transfers, a common way that homebuyers send funds to an escrow company to close on their new house. Nevada itself saw more than 3,000 cases of wire fraud and a loss of $35,720,000 in 2019.

Cyber criminals have grown increasingly devious in their methods to steal money. According to the FBI, most wire fraud originates from email compromise. Cyber criminals work their way into email accounts and analyze that person’s life.

In the case of prospective homebuyers, the criminal will wait until the end of the escrow and send a fraudulent email, posing as a real estate professional and providing incorrect bank routing information. The homebuyer is none the wiser as they have their funds sent to the wrong bank.

As a result of these crimes, the title and escrow industry has worked with the FBI and American Land Title Association to help homebuyers prevent future wire fraud with these 5 tips:

1. Password Protection: You are the gatekeeper of your personal information. While you don’t necessarily have to change your password every 60-90 days, it is necessary to have a strong password. Use phrases and a combination of 2+ numbers and 2+ symbols (!, ?, $, #, etc.). 

2. Spot Imposters: Be watchful and mindful of emails with errors. These can include spelling mistakes, grammar issues, or inconsistent information. Criminals often use similar email addresses to a trusted colleague, steal logos, and make the email look the same as though it came from your real estate representative. In addition, be suspicious of urgent requests, particularly in respect to financial or personal information. 

3. Internet Access: Never access your bank account or confidential emails while on free WiFi (locations such as cafes, coffee shops, public libraries, and more). These networks are unsecure and open the door for hackers to access and steal your information.

4. Communication: Do you think you’ve received a fraudulent email? Call your real estate representative to verify the email.

5. Report: If you’ve lost funds by wire fraud, immediately call your bank and ask them to issue a recall notice. Report the crime to the FBI at http://www.IC3.gov, and call your local FBI and police. It’s imperative to do this as soon as possible, as the funds have the best chance of being recovered within 24 hours of the incident.

Cybercrime and hacking have been around since the first phone in the 1870s. While the criminals are growing more persistent and clever, the escrow industry evolves with it. 

To find out more about wire fraud prevention and protecting your finances, visit http://www.IC3.gov.

Patrick Harris is a Business Development Specialist with Western Title. Founded in 1902, Western Title is one of the largest providers of title insurance in Northern Nevada, and also one of Nevada’s oldest companies. Go to westerntitle.net to learn more.


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