Written by Gretchen Rosenberg, President and CEO of Kentwood Real Estate
There is a cyber-crime epidemic happening and it’s hitting real estate transactions particularly hard. According to FinCen, the U.S. Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, “Drug traffickers, corrupt officials, money launderers, and other criminals seek to exploit real estate transactions to hide their illicit profits, conceal their identities, and launder funds.”
Consumers are at risk by virtue of being involved in a real estate transaction and must be highly vigilant to avoid becoming the next statistic. About 40% of all wire fraud moneys are recovered, which means 60% are not. 60% of those buyers lost their down payment and in some cases the entire purchase price. Sellers lost the sale of their house and had to put it back on the market or wait for the buyers to recover their funds or access other funds. This is amounting to billions of dollars lost to criminals.
How can you protect yourself?
- Do not click on links or attachments. At Kentwood Real Estate we have a mantra – No Links, No Attachments! What we mean is to maintain heightened awareness whenever we receive an email with a link or attachment we aren’t expecting. We know that cyber-criminals send phishing attempts constantly and use social engineering to make us think something is important or urgent. We don’t click the FedEx link, the phone company attachment, or title company email until we systematically verify the email is legitimate.
- SAIL your email. Vet any suspicious email through the acronym SAIL. Sender. Attachments. Information. Links. Do you know the sender? Were you expecting this email from them? Were you expecting an email with an attachment? Does the information in the email make sense? Are there spelling or grammatical errors? Did you hover over links to see the underlying URL? Same for the email account it was sent from? Is the domain in the URL misspelled or does it substitute a number for a letter, etc?
- Don’t fall for fake branding. It’s easy enough to copy and paste a company’s branding, or even someone’s email signature, into a phony phishing email. The criminals know how to appear compelling by attempting to use “social proof.” An email signature or company logo is not proof. Pick up the phone and call your broker or lender and ask if the information you received is information they intended to send you. NEVER accept wiring instructions via email that hasn’t arrived on an escrow or title company secured platform or isn’t encrypted. And ALWAYS call to confirm the wiring instructions before initiating a wire with your bank.
Together, we will overcome cyber-crime.
The best way to avoid becoming a statistic is to ask questions, pay close attention to your email, and slow down. We would much rather see you close, move into your home, and avoid the pain of being a victim. Our Kentwood Brokers, residential and commercial, stand ready to assist. We look forward to helping you take the next steps in your life’s journey!