Hacking Hits Real Estate! How to Safeguard Your Assets.
The sums of money changing hands in residential real estate transactions are considerable, often hundreds of thousands of dollars, and sometimes more. The preferred method of moving funds is the wire transfer; it's fast, and up until recently is has been secure and reliable. In an active real estate market like ours in Marin County, there can be several thousand such transfers every year. Nationwide, these regular transactions of large amounts of cash have attracted the attention of some very sophisticated criminals who have found a way to hijack communications between title/escrow companies, real estate agents, and their clients. These thieves intercept the emails, alter the wiring instructions, and then pass them on, hoping the alterations, which direct the funds to their own accounts instead of the escrow holder, will go unnoticed, Occasionally they are successful, and once the money is wired into their account there is often no recourse. A recent Kansas case in United States District Court arose from just such a situation where the buyers lost $196,000 after wiring it according to altered instructions unwittingly forwarded via their agent.
Here in Marin, Escrow officers have started to send wiring instructions password-protected, but I always call the escrow officer to verbally verify the instructions and the account number before passing on to my clients. I go into the Title Company with my clients for their signing and ensure they receive printed wiring instructions directly from the escrow officer. This is just one of the benefits of working with an experienced real estate professional. There are many other things we REALTORS do to protect our clients and look out for their interests; I'll go into them in a later post. In the meantime, if you need assistance with real estate, feel free to call; I'm looking forward to hearing from you!