Cyber crime targeting wire transfers is on the rise. Criminals have developed viruses that hack into email accounts of buyers, sellers, real estate agents and escrow companies. The malware records login information and then sits undetectable by commercial anti-virus software. When an email is sent or received that mentions a wire transfer, the virus alerts the criminals who then use the hacked login information to gain access to the email account. They then create another email address that is very similar to the hijacked email account. Using the fraudulent email account, the perpetrator will send an email to escrow changing the wire instructions to direct the funds to a foreign bank account. By the time anyone realizes that the funds have been improperly re-directed, it is too late to withdraw the wire under the rules that apply to banks.
Typically, there are irregularities in the fake email. However, as most people do not study emails carefully, the tell-tale signs of fraud are missed. CAR has released a new form titled the “Wire Fraud Advisory” form WFA. The new form advises buyers and seller of the existence of wire fraud and what to look for to prevent becoming a victim of an illegal scam. Real estate agents and brokers should use this new form in every transaction to give their clients information that might prevent future scams.
Many real estate agents and brokers are also adding language to their email signature lines directing recipients to call them if an email they send contains wire transfer instructions.
These types of precautions along with an Unified Threat Management system of firewalls, software updates, password rotations and website access restrictions can help ward-off or detect criminal conduct.