Cybercrime we hear about it in the news all the time. But what you may not have heard is how those who are buying or selling real estate are at risk! You’re probably thinking “how can that be?” Well, there's not a ton of information on the internet about it, so I will share with you what I know. And the scenario goes like this....
You decide to buy a house and you’re on the internet visiting websites such as Zillow, Realtor.com, different real estate agents, etc. Once you find an agent and a house, you begin regularly communicating via email your agent, bank or lender, closing attorney, and home inspectors. While you are efficiently performing all of these very important tasks associated with buying or selling your home from the comfort of your living room some creep from God knows where is now watching all of your activity online. And you know why? Because the creep knows you will soon be wiring funds to close on your house and/or earnest money for your deposit. Here’s your risk: the creep wants to re-route those funds to their bank account which is usually in a foreign country. “How can this be?” “How the heck can something like this happen?” Very easy. They copycat the email from your real estate agent or closing attorney and change the routing number and bank account to theirs.
The unfortunate thing is once you have wired money to the creep its very difficult to have your bank stop or reverse the wire. Moreover, whether anyone has liability for buyers and sellers losing their money is unclear. The general thinking is a real estate agent, lawyer, or mortgage lender who is impersonated by a cybercriminal cannot be held liable for something he or she did not do. With all the cybercrime happening there will more than likely be litigation on this subject but for now there is no appellate case in Georgia on this issue.
Okay, Paula now that you’ve scared the “bajesus” out of me what can I do to prevent this from happening? Do NOT wire any funds to anyone or anywhere without calling the recipient and picking up the phone to verbally go over the wire instructions (e.g., bank name, routing and account numbers). As a rule, have your agent hand deliver or fax any and all wire information. Be safe and be smart!