I guess it’s obvious that when you are preparing to close on a house and tens of thousands of dollars are being prepared to exchange hands, you and the people you are working with become targets.
We were recently targeted by a particular scam, which is known in the industry, where an involved party’s email is hacked by a malicious party. They then monitor email threads and jump in when you get close to closing and attempt to get you to wire your entire down payment to them instead of your attorney or title company.
Unsuspecting homebuyers have been swindled out of their entire down payments by this scam and there’s usually little law enforcement can do to get your money back.
This is what happened to us. A few days before our closing, I received this email, which at first, looked like it was from our real estate attorney. The email included our actual loan number, a generally correct reference to our closing date and a total closing cost close enough to the estimated amount we received a few days earlier to make it seem plausible.
However, there are a few suspicious bits here, beyond the fact that you always pay your closing costs at your final closing (which, understandably a first-time homebuyer might easily overlook). There’s the odd capitalization, the slightly off grammar, the fact that the font style is different from how our attorney’s email usually looks. Oh, and they wanted us to send the money to TURKEY???
At first all I saw was our attorney’s name – I didn’t open it up to see the obviously fake email – but I was concerned, especially since we hadn’t even received our final disclosure form, so there was no way we were going to send anything without seeing the final cost breakdown. I responded to say, sure, but where is the final disclosure?
I also copied Joe, who also wrote to ask about the final form and about why the hell were they requesting we send money to Turkey?
That’s when we saw the @usa.com email. We immediately forwarded everything to our attorney and mortgage originator, and Joe got them on the phone to confirm this wasn’t them.
But… the malicious party responded AGAIN:
In no situation will you be asked to do this by a legitimate attorney and title company – neither asked to “fund” the title company nor send your money directly to the seller.
This is the real estate version of the Nigerian Prince email scams. Except by monitoring your email thread they have enough information about you to make the request seem real, at least at a casual glance.
Stay alert. Know that you will never have to send your closing costs to anyone before your final closing, and never without the IRL presence of your attorney. When in doubt, ask for documents and clarifications, and get your people on the phone. Oh, and for pete’s sake, change your email passwords.