Wire Fraud

Overview

One of the fastest growing cybercrimes in the U.S. is wire fraud in real estate. About 11,300 people were victims of wire fraud in the real estate and rental sector in 2018 (a 17% increase over 2017), with losses of more than $150 million, according to FBI data.

The highest reported fraud in real estate in 2017 was Business Email Compromise/Email Account Compromise (BEC/EAC.) Fraudsters will assume the identity of the title, real estate agent or closing attorney and forge the person’s email and other details about the transaction. The scammers will then send an email to the unknowing buyer and provide new wire instructions to the criminal’s bank account.

Based on victim complaint data, BEC/EAC scams targeting the real estate sector are on the rise. From calendar year 2015 to calendar year 2017, there was over an 1100% rise in the number of BEC/EAC victims reporting the real estate transaction angle and an almost 2200% rise in the reported monetary loss. May 2018 reported the highest number of BEC/EAC real estate victims since 2015, and September 2017 reported the highest victim loss.[1]

[1] Business E-mail Compromise The 12 Billion Dollar ScamThu, 12 Jul 2018

Legal

Real estate transactions are an attractive target for sophisticated fraud scams. In a typical scenario, cybercriminals identify a pending sale transaction and then build a profile of the parties—including the title company, real estate agents, and the buyer and seller. They hack into one or more parties’ email account and monitor email traffic for their opportunity to strike, usually sending false wire instructions that divert deposits, closing costs and even mortgage payoff funds from their intended, lawful recipient.

In a real estate transaction, wire fraud is generally purported using one of these techniques:

  • Business E-Mail Compromise (BEC) – Targets businesses working with foreign suppliers and/or businesses regularly performing wire transfer payments.
  • E-Mail Account Compromise (EAC) – Targets individuals. These sophisticated scams are carried out by fraudsters compromising email accounts through social engineering or computer intrusion techniques to conduct unauthorized transfer of funds.
  • Phishing/Vishing/Smishing/Pharming – Unsolicited email, text messages, and telephone calls purportedly from a legitimate company requesting personal, financial, and/or login credentials.
  • Spoofing – Contact information (phone number, email, and website) is deliberately falsified to mislead and appear to be from a legitimate source.

Implementing wire fraud risk management strategies will help members and associations minimize liability for losses due to fraudulent cyber schemes. And, insurance coverage may be available to help mitigate the damages of a cyberattack or wire fraud incident.

Recommended Practices:

  1. Educate buyers about possible scams. Many brokers are requiring a signed disclosure to acknowledge the risk of wire fraud.
  2. Include a wire fraud notice in your email signature. 
  3. Use a transaction management platform or secure email to communicate with clients.
  4. Never send wire instructions (or any personal or financial information) via e-mail.
  5. Verify wire instructions with a phone number independently obtained.
  6. Use smart email practices:
  • Double check the sender’s email addresses and call the sender if you’re unsure they actually sent the email.
  • Monitor your email account for unrecognized activity.
  • Keep your operating system and antivirus programs updated.
  • Avoid using unsecured (public) WiFi.
  • Never click suspicious attachments.
  • Use strong passwords for your email and all online accounts, and two factor authentication when available. A strong password generally has these characteristics:
  • At least 8 characters
  • A mix of letters and numbers;
  • A mix of uppercase and lowercase letters;
  • At least one special symbol (i.e., ! @ # $).

NAR encourages all real estate licensees to know the signs of potential wire fraud and to educate their clients about these scams. Licensees should be knowledgeable about how to advise their clients if they believe they have been victimized by a wire fraud scam, and use best practices like these.

If fraud occurs, advise your clients:

  1. Time is of the essence.
  2. Immediately contact their bank to issue a recall notice of the wire transfer.
  3. File a complaint with the FBI at ICgov. Filing within 24 hours, but no more than 72 hours, provides the best chance of recovery.
  4. Contact your local FBI office.

Learn More:

IC3 2018 Crime Report
Cyber and Fidelity Insurance Report for Brokers
Window to the Law: How Avoid Wire Fraud in Transactions
Window to the Law: Cyberscams and the Real Estate Professional
Window to the Law: Creating a Cybersecurity Program
Data Privacy and Security
Data Privacy and Security Toolkit

References

NAR Library & Archives has already done the research for you. References (formerly Field Guides) offer links to articles, eBooks, websites, statistics, and more to provide a comprehensive overview of perspectives. EBSCO articles (E) are available only to NAR members and require a password.


One of the fastest growing cybercrimes in the U.S. is wire fraud in real estate. About 9,600 people were victims of wire fraud in the real estate and rental sector in 2017, with losses of more than $56 million, according to FBI data.

Infographic: Pay attention to how wire instructions are sent. Call to verify wire instructions with the title company.

California Association of REALTORS®

Source: California Association of REALTORS®: Wire Fraud Infographic

Wire Fraud: The Basics

Public Service Announcement: Business E-Mail Compromise the 26 Billion Dollar Scam (Federal Bureau of Investigation, Sep. 10, 2019)

How Wire Transfers Work: Sending and Receiving (The Balance, May 15, 2019)

The Five Red Flags of Wire Fraud (Crain’s New York Business, Sep. 21, 2018)

National Money Laundering Risk Assessment (2018)

Elements of Wire Fraud (United States Department of Justice)

Wire Transfer Scams (Washington State Office of the Attorney General)

Wire Fraud in Real Estate

Wire Fraud’s Impact on Homebuyers (MReport, Jun. 28, 2019)

Utahns are Losing Millions in Growing Real Estate Scam (The Salt Lake Tribune, Jun. 25, 2019)

Mortgage Escrow Fraud is a $1 Billion Cyber Threat – Here’s What Homebuyers Need to Know (Bankrate, Oct. 31, 2018)

Real Estate Wire Fraud is Rampant. REALTORS®, Buyers, Sellers, Lenders, and Attorneys Beware! (OVM Financial, Aug. 27, 2018)

Public Real Estate Data Makes Housing Market Easy Target for Wire Fraud (National Mortgage News, Aug. 27, 2018) E

Real Estate Wire Fraud on Upswing (Grand Rapids Business Journal, May 7, 2018) E

Sounding the Alarm: Mortgage Wire Fraud is a Much Bigger Threat than You Realize (Housingwire, Jan. 23, 2018)

Wire Transfer Scams Involving Real Estate Transactions are Increasing (The National Credit Union Administration Report, 2018)

Alert: Wire Fraudsters Targeting Real Estate Transactions (National Association of REALTORS®, May 18, 2015) 

How to Protect Yourself from Wire Fraud

Legal Hot Topics For Brokers: Follow These Tips to Reduce Risk of Wire Fraud (National Association of REALTORS®, May 23, 2019)

Preventing Real Estate Wire Fraud (DSNews, Jun. 28, 2019)

Mortgage Closing Scams: How to Protect Yourself and Your Closing Funds (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Jun. 3, 2019)

Protect Yourself from Wire Fraud Scams (Susquehanna Style, Feb. 13, 2019)

Mortgage Lenders Must Step Up to the Plate When it Comes to Wire Fraud (National Mortgage News.com, Dec. 5, 2018) E

10 Things You Can Do to Avoid Fraud (Federal Trade Commission, Aug. 2018)

Enact Protections Against Wire Transfer Fraud (Credit Union Directors Newsletter, Mar. 2018) E

Combat Real Estate Cyberthreats (REALTOR® AE Magazine, Feb. 15, 2018)

Wire Fraud Email Notice Template (National Association of REALTORS®, Nov. 15, 2017)

Expert Tips to Avoid Falling Victim to Real Estate Fraud Schemes (National Association of REALTORS®, Nov. 4, 2017)

Wire Fraud Notices (National Association of REALTORS®, Nov. 15, 2017)

How to Minimize the Risk of Becoming a Victim of Wire Fraud (Brief, 2017) E

The Threat of Wire Fraud Is Real (REALTOR® Magazine, May 19, 2016)

Protecting Your Business and Your Clients From Cyberfraud (National Association of REALTORS®, Nov. 24, 2015)

Reports & Other Resources

Legal Pulse Publication - Technology: 2018 Yearly Update (National Association of REALTORS®, Dec. 19, 2018)

Legal Case Summary: Licensee Liable for Wire Fraud Losses (National Association of REALTORS®, July, 25, 2018)

Legal Pulse Publication - Technology: 2017 Yearly Update (National Association of REALTORS®, Dec. 19, 2017)

Videos

Hot Topics in Risk Management (National Association of REALTORS®, Feb. 4, 2019)

The Voice for Real Estate 93: Fraud, Rural Win, Water Rule, CARE (National Association of REALTORS®, Dec. 18, 2018)

Window to the Law: How to Avoid Wire Fraud in Transactions (National Association of REALTORS®, Dec. 4, 2018)

Wire Fraud - 2017 AE Institute (National Association of REALTORS®, March 21, 2017)

Wire Fraud Alert for Buyers (National Association of REALTORS®, April 22, 2016)

Window to the Law: Cyberscams and the Real Estate Professional (National Association of REALTORS®, Aug. 4, 2015)

Websites

Coalition to Stop Real Estate Wire Fraud

Fraud and Scams (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau)

eBooks

Fraud Prevention for Commercial Real Estate Valuation (Kindle, eBook)

Cyber Smart: Five Habits to Protect Your Family, Money, and Identity from Cyber Criminals (eBook)


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