Scammers are tricking people out of enormous payments as they’re about to close on a house
It’s a nightmare scenario for any homebuyer: the day before closing, a scammer manages to trick you into wiring your down payment to an offshore account. You lose your hard-earned money and you lose the house, and there’s no way you can get either one back.
That’s how some criminals have adapted the common “business email compromise” scam – so-named because it used to almost exclusively target businesses – to focus on individuals, especially people who are involved in a pending real estate transaction.
Media spoke with two victims of this type of crime who wished to remain anonymous. They were devastated to lose six-figure sums, their dream homes and in one case, the bulk of the individual’s life savings.
And it’s a crime that is growing, according to Ryan Kalember, senior vice president of cybersecurity strategy for email security company Proofpoint, which tracks cybercrimes perpetrated over email. Kalember has observed attempts at this type of crime have risen to a level 14 times higher than last year. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has also warned several times this year that email compromise schemes are spiking, which includes this type of real estate fraud.
In some cases, Kalember said, criminals even follow up with phone calls to the victim buyers, purporting to be from a representative for the title company or seller’s law office, and reassuring them the wire transfer request is real.
“The technical skill level is near zero for this crime, but the operational sophistication is very high,” Kalember said. “That means that the phishing kits and other technical tools are freely available on the internet, but they are investing more time and effort into taking steps to trick the consumer.”