Criminals are no stranger to the world and wire fraud is not a new problem. But, in real estate, it's certainly a faster growing issue than in other industries.
It makes sense. Many spend their life savings on a home. The money exchanged in real estate transactions are such high dollar figures that it's no wonder the bad guys have their eyes on it. One "win" in their book could be a decade or more of a hard earned wage ... if they strike the right target.
So, what can you do to protect yourself? Great question! Here's 5 things you can do to help reduce your risk in becoming a victim to wire fraud.
Be Aware: Knowing is half the battle right? Being aware that this problem exists and understanding how real it is will certainly encourage you to step with caution when moving money around. No, this doesn't mean that time is no longer of the essence or that you have a good excuse to slow down the pace of the purchase of your wonderful new home ... it means that you need to pay attention to what's going on (which leads us to the next tip).
- Pay Attention: Did you know there is some crazy average of something like thirty-eight to forty people involved in the purchase or sale process of a home? CRAZY! The point is, there are a ton of moving parts, a lot of emails, phone numbers, names, documents, AHHHH! Pay attention. Yes, I know you may have an agent who is supposed to be making sure that you are protected BUT sometimes the agent isn't even brought into certain financial discussions between you and escrow or the lender just to make sure that your information is as safe as possible. So, pay attention to who you are talking to. Pay attention to the emails and communications you receive and pay attention to the email address or phone number of the people asking for information. Sometimes criminals will use similar emails or phone numbers with subtle changes to the ones you are used to seeing to lure a response with sensitive information and to trick you. In other words, you may not be talking to the person you think you are ...
- Double Check: Often times, (in California at least), escrow will email you wiring instructions for your initial deposit. While many escrow officers/companies are encrypting emails and securing information, it's not always perfect. In fact, some escrow officers are even sending wire instructions but making the consumer actually call their office for verbal confirmation of the routing and account numbers. If, however, you are given written instruction on how to set up your wire ... it's still a great idea to be proactive on your own and call the sender of said instructions and double check just to make sure.
- Follow Your Gut: If we run around scared all day then "they win anyway." I get it. So, I'm not suggesting that you live in a state of paranoia BUT if you feel that something isn't quite right then I refer you back to numbers 1-3 and acknowledge that "yes" this does happen, pay attention to what is happening and double check everything to make sure you do not become the victim who could have, should have and would have done more. If your gut is telling you something is up ... slow down and look into it.
- Keep "Private" Private: Change your passwords, stop sharing your accounts with other people, don't trust the world with your stuff. Passwords are yours and are meant to be private for a reason. I know it's terrible to have to remember the 7,000 different passwords that we are required to change every twenty-three minutes but the alternative is that maybe someone just takes all of your money, or your identity or whatever ... so maybe stop complaining about it and just do what you can to keep your personal and private information as just that.
YES, it's a pain sometimes to deal with the extra steps to protect what's ours and it's sad that we have to but it's a lot worse having to deal with the problem after it happens than it is to just be a little more proactive on the front end. But you don't have to take my word for it. Wire fraud is not a new thing ... it's just happening more. Realtor.org also wrote a very insightful article about this not too long ago.
Are there other things you can do to protect yourself? ABSOLUTELY! But, this is a good start ... and now that you're aware, don't be lazy and think it won't happen to you because I work in a business where I see it happen around me all of the time ... and you probably don't realize how close to you this is actually happening. This is a real problem. This is a real problem. Wire fraud is on the rise and real estate is a $ HUGE $ target!