More recently, the American Land Title Association told the story of a chap named Taylor – his last name was omitted to protect his privacy – a move-up buyer outside of Denver who received an email appearing to come from the title company and asking him to wire his closing funds early in the transaction.
“The emails appeared convincing and included my exact amount for closing that had previously been discussed by the title company,” Taylor told ALTA. “I received the wiring instructions and wired just under $80,000 as instructed. Two days later, I was notified that the money did not arrive at the title company and that’s when I realized my life savings had been stolen.”
Fortunately for Taylor, his title company, Title Forward, advised him how to notify the financial institutions involved of the crime. But after two days, the banks provided no assurance his funds were secure, so the company called in Thomas Cronkright, a funds recovery expert who himself was a wire fraud victim.
Cronkright, who runs a company called CertifID, gathered the emails and bank information and deployed CertifID’s Funds Recovery Services to launch a coordinated effort that involved the Secret Service to recover the funds. Within a few hours, Taylor’s money had been secured. And within a week of complying with the criminal’s wire request, his life savings was back in his bank account.
Of course, very few victims are as fortunate as Taylor or Aaron Cole. Nevertheless, Taylor said he found the entire experience “shocking,” adding that “if I can be tricked, anyone can.” Turns out, many people are. According to the FBI’s latest Internet Crime Report, wire fraud — technically referred to as Business Email Compromise – has cost companies and home buyers more than $3.5 billion in recent years.
You rarely hear of these victims’ stories, largely because they are too embarrassed to come forward. But the scheme accounts for nearly half of all cyber crime losses. It starts with a “phishing” expedition in which fraudsters search the Internet for folks involved in a real estate transaction. And with more than five million sales a year, there are plenty of those.
Once the bad guys latch on to e-mails between buyers and their agents and lenders, they gain transaction details, including the amounts buyers are required to transfer for their pending closings. Armed with that information, they send fake wiring instructions under the guise of the title company or other professionals involved in the transaction.
The instructions often tell buyers to send the money immediately – sometimes as digital currency – or the transaction will be delayed or canceled altogether. And if an unsuspecting buyer complies, his money is gone in a flash.