This week we had two reports of wire fraud in Berkshire County (1 successful, 1 that was not). While police and the FBI were notified as well as bank administration, it is CRITICALLY IMPORTANT you tell EVERY CLIENT that they should NEVER wire money without calling and receiving voice confirmation of banking instructions directly from the contact’s phone number they already possess. In one case, the email accounts were hacked, an alterative email account was created that was ALMOST identical (can you tell the difference between 0 versus O (number zero versus upper case O??). They then recreated the same wire instructions, with the same amounts and delivery date deadlines, but then simply changed the bank routing number and account. The wire that was intercepted was over $100,000. Don’t forget about the NAR case we reported in 2018 that said a Kansas federal court upheld a jury verdict that determined that the buyer’s agent was 85% responsible for the buyer’s losses, which occurred when the buyer transferred purchase money to fake account after buyer’s agent allegedly forwarded email containing false wiring instructions to the buyer. The Massachusetts Association of REALTORS® continues to hear new reports of wire fraud and Legal Counsel offers this advice:
REALTORS® should counsel their clients of the risks of wire fraud and advise them to:
- Never wire funds without independently verifying all information;
- Verify contact information shared within an email is legitimate – do not call the phone number contained within the email;
- Only send personal information (SSN, account numbers, etc.) through a securely encrypted email or personal delivery to the intended recipient;
- Be cautious of any links contained in emails, and
- Use strong passwords, safe email providers, anti-virus / firewall, and and secure WIFI.
Scammers are incredibly clever, making detection of fraud increasingly difficult. Wire fraud often occurs through an email hack where the email used is extremely close to the email address they are impersonating, sometimes only changing one letter or number, or switching the sender from Gmail to Yahoo. Scammers may even include details to increase the credibility of their email, such as a company logo.
Office policies regarding wire fraud can significantly mitigate the risk of falling prey to a wire fraud scheme. Develop company policies that require agents to use the MAR Wire Fraud Advisory (Form 519) in their client onboarding process and to only use secure email servers for client communications.
If clients believe they have received suspicious wiring instructions, they should immediately contact the bank, the escrow agent, and law enforcement.