by Aly J. Yale, I cover mortgage, housing and real estate.
It all started with an email.
Just days before closing on a home, I got a message from my escrow officer—or at least someone pretending to be her. Our closing costs needed to be wired to the title company right away, she said, or our closing date would be pushed back.
Considering the six weeks I’d spent waiting to close on the property—not to mention the disdain I had for our current rental home—the message sent my heart racing.
The font was right. The signature was right. There was even a CC to my real estate agent. But something seemed off.
A closer look at the header revealed the problem. Each email address—one for my agent, one my mortgage broker and one for my escrow officer—was a single character off.
It was a fake.
It Happens All The Time
A thief had tried to steal nearly $60,000—and my dream home—right from under me. But my case was far from unique.
Thousands of unwitting homebuyers fall victim to these fraud schemes every year. And as the industry gets more and more digitized, the number of victims (and their losses) only grows.
According to the FBI, Americans lost nearly $150 million to real estate scams just last year. Scams in the industry have jumped more than 1,000% since 2015, and real estate is now one of the top victims of malware attacks in the country.