Cybercrime is posing a risk to an increasing number of real estate transactions, with home buyers’ down payment funds the main target of scammers. Anthony Lamacchia, broker-owner of Lamacchia Realty in Waltham, Mass., wrote a recent article for Boston.com warning consumers to beware about the scam.
Criminals are targeting home buyers by sending them emails that look like they might come from their real estate agent or attorney. The emails may contain signatures, fonts, and logos that are identical to the originals. The email then usually claims the plans for submitting the down payment have changed and provides new instructions to wire funds to an account. However, if buyers follow those new instructions, they often lose their funds forever.
“Hackers can pop in and out of people’s emails without detection, often leaving the unsuspecting individuals untouched if it’s clear they’re not involved in any high-ticket transactions,” Lamacchia writes. “If hackers make their way into the email of someone involved in a real estate transaction, they can deconstruct the person’s identity in order to gain access to associated accounts. Then they are able to create emails and internet landing pages that appear identical to those involved in the transaction.”
Lamacchia stresses the need for real estate professionals to warn their clients that they could be exposed to wire fraud in a transaction, and to tell them that any change in the transfer of funds will be discussed face to face. Further, he encourages real estate professionals, attorneys, and other parties handling property transactions to use only encrypted Wi-Fi networks and to create complex passwords that are changed frequently. Lamacchia also urges real estate professionals to use company email addresses, like firstname.lastname@example.org, because they are much more difficult for hackers to duplicate than an address from Gmail or Yahoo. Also, watch for any slight differences in the email addresses, such as Tom.Rott@gmail.com being changed to Tom.Rot@gmail.com.
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