It all started with one click. A few emails later, $50,000 was gone and a Texas realty company became the latest victim of a widespread wire fraud scam.
Earlier this year, a Texas realty company found out that one of their agent’s buyers was deceived into wiring closing funds to a bank account the buyer assumed was the Realtor’s.
The scam was set in motion when the agent’s assistant opened a link from an email she believed was from a legitimate website. The link directed the assistant to a website that looked similar to a site she intended to go to. Not realizing the website was fraudulent, the assistant entered her login information.
Once the con artists had access to the assistant’s email account, they were able to access all contacts, including potential home buyers. The scammers created a new email address that mirrored the assistant’s, but with a slight variation.
The scammers — who were operating out of California — emailed the buyer and directed them to wire money to the realty company’s bank account, which really belonged to the con artists. The scammers then forged the agent’s signature and ultimately made off with $50,000.
The scam that affected this Texas realty company occurred because of phishing — a way to obtain important information like usernames and passwords through email. Hackers target individuals or send out mass emails and see who will take the bait. Typically, you can spot a phishing email due to improper grammar or misspelling. With this scam, the hackers knew how real estate transactions worked and used proper grammar and spelling. While there are certain tools you can use to heighten your security, most phishing scams are successful because of a person’s actions, not a failure of technology or because of a certain email service.
Better Business Bureau serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin provides tools online to help consumers protect themselves from con artists. Consumers can report a scam or find scams by using BBB’s Scam Tracker. It shows scams reported nationwide on an interactive map. Consumers can navigate the site and find scams near them by clicking state by state. Scam Tracker also includes trending scam types, which are scams published in the last three days.
To protect yourself against online scams, your BBB and the Texas Association of REALTORS® recommends:
• Secure everything. This includes your network and various devices you use to access the Internet. Install antivirus software and keep it up-to-date.
• Communicate with your agent in person or by phone. Avoid communicating only via email to protect yourself from potential online scams and miscommunication.
• Don’t open unfamiliar emails. Beware of unusual requests, like when a business contact wants to start using a personal email address after always using a company email address. Do not click on unfamiliar links as this is sometimes a way for scammers to obtain your information.
• Never wire money. Never wire a large sum of money to someone else’s account. Write a check or pay with a credit card. Once money is wired, it is almost impossible to trace where it ends up, much less recover it.
• File a report with the Internet Crime Complaint Center and your BBB. The FBI recommends businesses that are victims of a scam file a report with the Internet Crime Complaint Center, also known as IC3. The IC3, a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, investigates complaints about criminal Internet activity. You can also report a scam with your BBB at bbb.org/central-texas.