There are numerous techniques scammers use to get real estate settlement parties to click on fake emails.
One technique is to spoof the legitimate sender’s email address. Scammers send fake emails from accounts that are nearly identical to the legitimate sender’s email addresses. For example, law firm email addresses that contain the word “law” are spoofed when scammers change the word law to lavv. On a mobile device, distinguishing a “w” from a “vv” can be almost impossible.
Another technique uses social engineering by appealing to the recipient’s sense of urgency, fear or curiosity.
Scammers send massive numbers of malware-embedded emails containing real estate settlement subject lines such as: “URGENT There is a problem with your settlement.” Innocent home buyers fear something may have gone awry with their settlement and open and/or click on the infected email.
From that point forward, the scammer can access all transaction details. These emails are referred to as “phishing” emails since they are designed to hook their recipients into clicking on a link in those emails or even just opening them.
Increasingly, scammers are targeting specific recipients by taking advantage of all the publicly available information about a real estate transaction. They “phish” the listing agent, and if successful, they gain access to that agent’s email.
With that access, the scammer obtains information such as the names and email addresses for buyer, seller settlement company and lender as well as the loan amount and the proposed settlement date.
Armed with this data, scammers pose as the settlement company and email the buyer well before the settlement date and falsely instruct them to wire their “cash to close” immediately. Unwitting buyers comply. It is only later, when the real settlement company contacts the buyer, that the horrible truth is discovered. By then, it is too late for law enforcement to trace the funds or catch the scammers.
“Scammers send us phishing emails every day, and sometimes numerous times in a day,” said John Cotter, president and CEO of Passport Title Services in Rockville, Md. “It is imperative that before consumers wire settlement funds, they scrutinize the sender’s email address. We no longer accept wiring instructions via email unless verified by a phone call.”