Buying your first home can be stressful, and even downright scary. You try so hard to be careful about everything involved in the house buying process, from meeting every appointment and deadline to reading the fine print before signing. Every step of the way, you feel as if you’re holding your breath, at least until you have the keys in your hand. Because of this, you jump any time the lender, realtor or anyone else involved in the process calls, texts or sends you an email. But what if the person contacting you is not really who they claim to be? Phishing scams and email hacking are certainly nothing new, but they can be difficult to detect. The Federal Trade Commission and the National Association of Realtors® are now warning consumers of a scam that is stealing money from vulnerable home buyers.
How The Scam Works
Scammers retrieve details on upcoming closings by hacking into the email accounts of real estate professionals or potential home buyers. Using the information they glean, they contact home buyers via email, impersonating the title company, realtor or someone else involved in the process. Typically, the email informs the buyers that there has been a last minute change regarding closing costs. They instruct the home buyers to wire the money to a specific bank account, which of course belongs to the scammer. Those who believe the email can quickly lose thousands of dollars. Knowing how to spot a potential scam and how to proceed if you are the victim could prevent a devastating theft.
1. Don’t Use Email
As a rule, email is not a secure method for transmitting sensitive information. Avoid sending your bank account information, your social security number or other details that could fall into the wrong hands via email. If you receive an email with this type of information, consider it suspicious and investigate before you proceed.
2. Make Contact
If you receive a dubious email, contact the person supposedly sending it via an alternative method. Call them on the phone, visit them in person or connect through their official website to see whether they actually sent the suspicious message.
3. Don't Click On Those Attachments
Even if an email seems legitimate, do not open any unexpected attachments. They may contain malware that can wreak havoc on your computer. Again, if you are uncertain, contact the sender using a different means of communication.
4. Work Fast To Get Your Money Back
If you fall prey to this email scam and wire money unawares, working quickly might help you retrieve your hard-earned cash. Contact the bank or money transfer company through which you made the payment and ask if a wire recall is possible.
5. Contact The Authorities
File a report with the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). Provide as much information as possible, such as the details of the email, the amount of money you sent and the bank account to which you wired it.
6. Protect Your Identity
Along with your money, there is a good chance your identity has been compromised, too. Alert the FTC, which will help you create a personal recovery plan.
7. Secure Your Computer
Take steps to prevent yourself from being hacked or to safeguard your computer after your information has been stolen.
- Install and update security software to protect your system from malware.
- Change your passwords regularly and make sure you choose strong ones.
- Use security settings offered by your email provider and social media platforms.
- Ask friends to inform you right away if they receive suspicious messages from your account, as this is a sign that you have been hacked.
[h/t: The Penny Hoarder]