Merry Wire Fraud, and Happy New Year

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and wonderful 2017!  I hope you all had wonderful holidays, and that the return to “ordinary time” hasn’t been too traumatic.

My holidays were wonderful.  Nice time with family, a fun New Year’s Eve party in San Francisco, and then of course the obligatory week laid out with the nasty post-holiday bug that seems to have felled so many this season.

But the little “holiday” story I want to tell today happened during the holidays, but it wasn’t particularly festive.  In fact, it could have ruined a lot of people’s entire season.

You may have seen one of the many stories or consumer alerts about wire fraud in the news lately.  It’s on the rise.  I know that because I’ve seen the stories, too.

I also know it because it happened to my clients.  Well, it would have happened, if they hadn’t had an alert team looking out for them.

A few days before closing on this particular transaction, the title representative receive an email from me, telling her that my clients were changing the account that they wanted their proceeds wired to — proceeds totaling nearly $100,000.  The new routing and account numbers were included in the email.

Only one problem.  I didn’t write the email.  It looked like it was from me.  It said it was from me. It was signed by “me.”  But it wasn’t me.

My clients knew nothing about it, and not instructed anybody to wire to a different account.  Certainly not the account listed in the email, which was not theirs, and most likely located somewhere offshore.

Fortunately, I work with the best title rep in the business.  I chose her specifically because she takes her job seriously, she is detail-oriented, and she goes above and beyond to make sure everything goes right when my listings close.

We have been working together for years.  She knows me, and she knows how I operate.  Even thought the email itself looked authentic, she has never known me to change wiring instructions in an email before.  And so she called me.

Thank God.  Literally.

If we had been working with a title closer who wasn’t as attentive as mine, those funds could easily have been gone.  That money was going to be the down payment on their new house.  It was basically all the money they had in the world.  And once it hit that offshore account, there would be no getting it back.

My clients’ old house would have been sold, the profit they made would have been gone, and the would have no money to make the downpayment on their new house.  They would have been left broke and homeless.

I don’t know how these scammers hacked into the transaction.  I don’t think they got into my email, because the email address on the fake email wasn’t my real address.  Could have been any one of many different entry points — a real estate transaction has a lot of moving parts.  These scammers are smart, and they’re getting sneakier every day.

So, in the immortal words of Hill Street Blues,  “Be careful out there.”  If you are involved in any transaction that involves the transfer of large amounts of money — and particularly if the funds are being wired — double and triple check everything.

And if you’re buying or selling a house, let me and my team make sure you’re protected.