It’s happening everywhere – hackers are stealing funds thought to be wired to escrow companies. It’s a real threat – be careful! Hat tip GW:
James and Candace Butcher were ready to finalize the purchase of their dream retirement home, and at closing time wired $272,000 from their bank following instructions they received by email.
Within hours, the money had vanished.
Unbeknownst to the Colorado couple, the email account for the real estate settlement company had been hacked, and fraudsters had altered the wiring instruction to make off with the hefty sum representing a big chunk of the Butchers’ life savings, according to a lawsuit filed in state court.
A report by the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center said the number of victims of email fraud involving real estate transactions rose 1,110 percent between 2015 to 2017 and losses rose nearly 2,200 percent.
Nearly 10,000 people reported being victims of this kind of fraud in 2017 with losses over $56 million, the FBI report said.
The Butchers, forced to move into their son’s basement instead of their dream home, eventually reached a confidential settlement in a lawsuit against their real estate agent, bank and settlement company, according to their lawyer Ian Hicks.
The problem is growing as hackers take advantage of lax security in the chain of businesses involved in real estate and a potential for a large payoff.
“In these cases, the fraudster knows all of the particulars of the transaction, things that are completely confidential, things they should not know,” said Hicks, who is involved in more than a dozen similar cases across the United States.
Numerous cases have been filed in courts around the country seeking restitution from various parties. One couple in the US capital Washington claimed to have lost $1.5 million in a similar fraud scheme.
Real estate is just one segment of what the FBI calls “business email compromise” fraud which has resulted in some $12 billion in losses over the past five years. But for home buyers, the fraud can be particularly catastrophic.
“In these cases, the loss can be devastating and life-altering,” Hicks said.
Real estate transactions have become a lucrative target for hackers “because they handle a lot of money and because they have employees who are not the most technically savvy,” said Sherrod DeGrippo, director of threat research for the security firm Proofpoint.
Additionally, hackers often do their homework and “sometimes they know more about the business than the employees do,” she said.
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