Real estate scam bilks buyers, sellers during transactions

There’s a new scam in town, and the Colorado Division of Real Estate is warning people not to fall for it.

The scam involves stealing money directly from home buyers and sellers. It is a national cyber scam that tries to fool people into electronically transferring money while they are in the process of selling or buying a home.

It involves cybercriminals who have hacked into the email accounts of real estate brokers, title companies and consumers who are in the process of buying or selling a home.

In it, the computer hackers monitor email exchanges between any of those involved in a real estate transaction. As the closing date approaches and arrangements are being made to wire money to the closing company or electronically send proceeds to a seller, the scammer will send a last-minute email from a hijacked account or similar looking email address altering the wiring instructions to request the money be sent to what turns out to be a fraudulent bank account.

Earlier this year, a Colorado seller lost more than $80,000 in such a scam, the division said.

“Unfortunately, the costs to Colorado consumers can be in the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars with just one successful scam,” said Marcia Waters, division director. “Unless you pay very close attention, everything may look right, the email signature, address and the website. But by the time home buyers realize something is wrong, the money is already gone, and in an untraceable bank account, leaving them at the closing table with no money and eliminating their ability to purchase a home.”

The scams have gotten so sophisticated that even to the experts the altered information appears to be legit because they include very detailed information about the transaction.

“This scam reflects the increasing technical sophistication of computer hackers and all home buyers and sellers are potential victims,” Waters said.

The division and the Federal Trade Commission offer the following tips to help avoid such a scam:

■ Prior to wiring any money, verbally contact your broker to confirm any last-minute changes.

■ Do not email any financial information.

■ Keep a record of websites that hold financial information, and ensure they are secure. Be wary if it doesn’t have an “s” at the end of the http. That “s” stands for “secure.”

■ Don’t click onto any links from suspect emails. Instead, search for the company you are using, and directly link to them.

■ Keep your computer’s operating system, browser and security software up to date.


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