Grow Financial Federal Credit Union
March 9, 2023

Homebuyer Scam Alert: Avoid Real Estate Wire Fraud

Buying a home is a big deal. It also happens to be one of the most complex and expensive purchases you’ll ever make, which makes homebuying a breeding ground for fraudsters who prey on unsuspecting buyers. Wire fraud is a growing problem, and according to the FBI, wire transfer fraud has become one of the most common forms of real estate fraud in the United States, costing victims millions of dollars each year.1 Let’s talk about how to stay safe while you’re closing on your new home.

What is real estate wire fraud?

Real estate wire fraud is categorized by the FBI as a type of business email compromise (BEC) fraud.2 In a BEC scheme, criminals send an email that appears to come from a known source. Here’s how that works when it comes to real estate:

  1. Convincing email. The scammer will send an email that looks like it’s from your real estate agent, title company or lender, asking you to wire money to a certain account for your down payment or closing costs.
  2. Urgency in the subject. These emails will often have a subject line that seems urgent and legitimate, such as “Urgent: new wiring instructions” or “Important change: don’t delay your closing.” The email is designed to get you to let your guard down and think time is of the essence.
  3. Fake account information. Unfortunately, the account information provided in the email actually points to a bank account controlled by the scammer, not your agent or lender.

Because one successful scam can net thousands, scammers take their time to make their communications seem realistic and match your homebuying timeline. Since you’d already be expecting to make a wire transfer during real estate transactions, it’s easy to miss the red flags and wire money to the wrong place, which can result in a huge financial loss for the homebuyer and delay the closing process. The worst part: once the money is gone, it’s very difficult to get it back.

How can homebuyers avoid wire fraud?

Real estate wire fraud can be tough to detect because it often involves someone you trust — a scammer impersonating someone you trust, that is. That’s why it’s so important that homebuyers be aware of this type of scam and know what to look for.

Here are a few ways to help you avoid wire transfer fraud and protect yourself when purchasing a new home:

  • Verify the recipient’s identity at each step. Before you send a wire transfer, it is important to verify the recipient’s identity and account information, ideally multiple times — when you initially get the information from your title company or real estate agent and again before you send the wire at your credit union or bank. Remember not to rely on any phone number or email address provided by email, because those could be part of the scam. It’s best to go directly to the company’s official website to confirm the correct phone number.
  • Don’t click on links in unsolicited emails. Be cautious of unsolicited emails that ask for your personal or financial information. Don’t click on any links or download any attachments you aren’t expecting, which may contain malware.2
  • Be suspicious of last-minute changes and pressure to act quickly. If you receive a request for a last-minute change to the wire transfer information or feel pressured to act quickly, be very cautious. That’s a red flag warning you to contact your real estate agent or title company directly.

Wire fraud in real estate transactions is a serious issue that can have devastating consequences for homebuyers. By staying vigilant and double-checking all wire instructions before you send money, you can protect yourself when purchasing a home.

1FBI Internet Crime Report 2021. Accessed February 22, 2023.
2Scams and Safety: Business Email Compromise. Accessed February 22, 2023.

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