Closing Cost Scam Targets Florida Home Buyers
Buying a house is not like purchasing groceries at the supermarket. Acquiring legal title to real estate involves a fair amount of paperwork. It is easy to get confused when dealing with real estate agents, the sellers and the title company, not to mention getting ready for the closing and moving into your new home.
Unfortunately, there are people who prey upon this confusion. Recently, federal regulators and real estate industry groups have sounded the alarm on “phishing” scams that specifically target home buyers. According to an alert published by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the National Association of Realtors (NAR) in March 2016, “Hackers have been breaking into some consumers’ and real estate professionals’ email accounts” to obtain information about upcoming closings.
Armed with this information, the attackers email the unsuspecting buyer, posing as the real estate agent or title company. According to the FTC, these emails typically inform the buyer that there “has been a last minute change to the wiring instructions” and the buyer needs to immediately pay their closing costs to a different account. Obviously, this is an account controlled by the attacker. If the buyer falls for the scam, the FTC noted, “their bank account could be cleared out in a matter of minutes.”
Even after the FTC and NAR warning more than a year ago, industry groups continue to see this type of email scam succeed to the detriment of innocent consumers. The American Land Title Association (ALTA) recently sent a letter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, asking it to join the FTC’s efforts. With the spring home buying season underway, ALTA said in its letter, “it’s vital to continue raising awareness about these schemes.”
How Can You Protect Yourself From Online “Phishing”?
Email may be a universal communications tool, but it is not a secure means of exchanging financial information. You should never respond directly to any email that asks for your bank account information. If the message claims to be from someone you know, such as your attorney, real estate agent, or title company, take the time to call that person directly. No reputable professional should ever solicit personal financial information over email. By contacting the real parties, you are alerting them to the possibility that their email account has been compromised. You are also protecting yourself and your bank account.
It is also important to practice good “hygiene” with respect to your own email account. Always exercise caution when opening email attachments. Many times an attorney or real estate agent may want to email you some forms or documents related to your transaction. In and of itself, this is not bad. But if you were not expecting an attachment, once again, you should call the person to double-check they really sent it. You should also make sure to keep your own operating system, web browser, and anti-virus software up to date. Sometimes a perfectly legitimate message has acquired a virus or malware without the sender’s knowledge; your computer should be set to scan all incoming attachments for possible problems.
Do You Need Help With a Florida Real Estate Closing?
Finally, do not try to handle a real estate closing by yourself. You may think hiring an attorney is just an unnecessary expense. However, an experienced Real Estate Attorney can protect your interests and make sure you close with your finances and peace of mind intact. If you need help with a real estate closing or title matter, call Kira Doyle Law in St. Petersburg, Florida, at (727) 800-3782.