New real estate and mortgage fraud scams are hitting buyers and sellers hard as criminals get sophisticated and digitally savvy.

Hackers and scammers are getting smarter and are increasingly targeting juicy opportunities to feed off of the big sums being exchanged in real estate transactions. They are doing this via identity theft, banking fraud, and using email scams. If you are not careful you could lose your property, or tens, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars.

One of the most common types of real estate scams emerging today is trying to redirect funds from the closing to offshore or hijacked bank accounts. This is frequently being done through email. Scammers will inject themselves into the conversation and acting as the title company or agent will provide alternative instructions for wiring down payments and mortgage funds. In one recent case they did both; causing the buy and bank to send $500,000 to an offshore bank in the Philippines.

There are several tactics being used to do this, but most involve email. This includes online computer viruses and email phishing scams. Hackers used to mimic email addresses and use similar ones to their friends and contacts to trick users into opening them. Now once they are in they will hijack legitimate email addresses, and send out emails from that account. Once in they can then take over multiple accounts for other contacts, friends, and family members. It is almost impossible to tell. They will even create and include copies of documents to make it appear legitimate.

Ways to stay safer include:

  • Avoid using free email accounts like Yahoo
  • Use strong passwords
  • Don’t open suspicious emails
  • Don’t enter your passwords on any sites or popups started by clicking on a link or image in an email
  • Regularly check your devices are clean and virus free
  • Verify wiring instructions with contacts via phone and numbers from previous messages
  • Choose a title company which has lots of security and safe guards in place
  • Use physical cashier’s checks instead of wiring funds

If in doubt always double and triple check money transfer details. Keep a regular eye on your own bank account too. Be quick to report issues and change passwords regularly. These scams are far too damaging and are spreading too rapidly to be left to go on.