In December, the Colorado Division of Real Estate at the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) sent a warning to consumers regarding increasing reports of wire fraud. Hackers break into email accounts, learn details about upcoming transactions, then send an email to the victim that looks like it’s from a real estate agent or title representative. The email includes bogus wiring instructions that look legitimate, but link to an outside bank account. Once wired to the scammer, the money is gone. These events are devastating, and unfortunately reports of this cyber crime are increasing in Colorado. Here are 6 tips to protect against wire fraud.
Maintain good security habits.
Stay off public hot spots and change passwords to email and financial accounts regularly. Enable two-step verification where possible. Keep your browser, security software, and operating systems (on all devices) up-to-date. Confirm websites that you enter information into are safe. The URL address should start with the letters HTTPS (the “S” stands for secure). Last but not least, power off your devices every night. You'll sleep better anyway.
Never navigate using links inside of emails or direct messages.
Links don't always go where the label suggests they will, and hackers are very skilled at creating landing forms that appear trustworthy. Instead, go to websites via web search or by typing the known web address into your browser.
Know your title company and confirm instructions.
If possible, deliver your earnest money to the title company in person. You can pick up a printed copy of wiring instructions and refer to it later in the transaction. Always confirm instructions and account numbers with a professional you know over a phone call before wiring money.
NEW! Create a verbal pass phrase with your agent.
Work with your real estate agent to create a verbal pass phrase. Your agent can give your phrase to the professionals in charge of your closing. Easily verify you are working with a trusted team member by confirming the your pass phrase before releasing personal information or trusting wiring instructions.
Beware of bogus emails. They can be extremely convincing!
Cyber-criminals create fake email accounts with minor changes that can easily go unnoticed (i.e., firstname.lastname@example.org, not email@example.com, or an email address that should end in .com ends in .net).
Avoid emailing or texting financial information altogether.
It's convenient, but emails and texts are not secure methods to transmit financial information. Pick up the phone and talk live with your broker, lender and title company. They're probably very nice people! Hopefully crimes like these will decrease with increased consumer awareness and protection. Please spread the word and report any fraudulent activities to the Federal Bureau of Investigations through its Internet Crime Complaint Center or to Stop Fraud Colorado.
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Michelle Schwinghammer is a REALTOR®, Notary Public, and Certified Negotiation Expert® who provides real estate expertise and reliability to people in Denver and Jefferson Counties. Learn more here. © Copyright 2017, Schwingstate, LLC, All rights reserved.