One of the fastest growing cybercrimes in the U.S. is wire fraud in real estate. About 11,677 people were victims of wire fraud in the real estate and rental sector in 2019 with losses of more than $221 million (a 48% increase over 2018), according to FBI data. That ranks real estate and rental wire fraud #5 out of more than 30 types of fraud tracked by the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.
The highest reported fraud in real estate in 2019 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 continue to 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 Victims participating at all levels of a real estate transaction have reported such activity to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
 Business E-mail Compromise The 12 Billion Dollar ScamThu, 12 Jul 2018
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.
- Educate buyers about possible scams. Many brokers are requiring a signed disclosure to acknowledge the risk of wire fraud.
- Include a wire fraud notice in your email signature.
- Use a transaction management platform or secure email to communicate with clients.
- Never send wire instructions (or any personal or financial information) via e-mail.
- Verify wire instructions with a phone number independently obtained.
- 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:
- Time is of the essence.
- Immediately contact their bank to issue a recall notice of the wire transfer.
- File a complaint with the FBI at ICgov. Filing within 24 hours, but no more than 72 hours, provides the best chance of recovery.
- Contact your local FBI office.
IC3 2019 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
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.
Wire Fraud: The Basics
TD’s Answer to a Pandemic-Driven Spike in Wire Fraud (American Banker, Jun. 18, 2020)
Wire Fraud (Investopedia, May 9, 2020)
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)
Elements of Wire Fraud (United States Department of Justice)
Wire Transfer Scams (Washington State Office of the Attorney General)
Wire Fraud in Real Estate
Mortgage Escrow Fraud is a $1 Billion Cyber Threat – Here’s What Homebuyers Need to Know (Bankrate, Feb. 24, 2020)
How to Beware of Mortgage Wire Fraud During Closing (Rocket Mortgage, Aug. 27, 2019)
Wire Fraud’s Impact on Homebuyers (MReport, Jun. 28, 2019)
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
Wire Transfer Scams Involving Real Estate Transactions are Increasing (The National Credit Union Administration Report, 2018)
How to Protect Yourself from Wire Fraud
Protect Your Real Estate Business With NAR’s Cyber Liability Insurance Program (PDF) (National Association of REALTORS®, 2020)
COVID-19 and Wire Fraud (Old Republic Title, Mar. 23, 2020)
Be Careful Out There: Lessons Learned from Wire Fraud Cases (Troutman Pepper, Jan. 21, 2020)
How to Protect Yourself from Real Estate Scams (The New York Times, Jan. 3, 2020)
Legal Hot Topics For Brokers: Follow These Tips to Reduce Risk of Wire Fraud (National Association of REALTORS®, Nov. 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)
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)
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)
Wire Fraud Email Notice Template (National Association of REALTORS®)
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)
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)
Fraud and Scams (Consumer Financial Protection Bureau)
Fraud Prevention for Commercial Real Estate Valuation (Kindle, eBook)
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