Real Estate Phishing Scams: How to Identify and Avoid Them
Did you know that scammers use a simple technique known as phishing to target people in the midst of a homebuying process? Thankfully, it’s easy to avoid these phishing scams, especially if you know what to look for. Here are what some common phishing scams look like and what to look out for when you get an unusual email or text message.
What is Phishing?
Phishing is the most common form of internet fraud, though it can happen through a variety of channels, including email, phone calls and text messages. The word “phishing” refers to the idea that scammers who use this technique “fish” for their marks. They put bait out there and wait to get a bite (or, more accurately, a response). This bait comes in the form of what looks or sounds like an official message from a government agency, company or financial institution.
These messages almost always include a vague but potentially stressful problem, such as an account being past due or additional funds needed to complete a transaction. After introducing a problem, the message will request a solution in the form of specific, sensitive personal information such as bank routing and account numbers, social security numbers and credit card account information.
That element of stress and sensitivity is the key to most scammers’ success: they manipulate their victims into acting impulsively. This means you can protect yourself by simply taking some time to think before you act.
Phishing and Real Estate Transactions
While some phishing scams cast a wide net, others target very specific populations. In some cases, they’ve even targeted people who are in the process of buying a home. These real estate scams involved hackers gaining access to a real estate or title company’s recent transactions. The scammers then used this information to contact people on the customer list and try to get victims to send money via wire transfer. They’ve even gone so far as to attach a fraudulent invoice to an email or text in order to seem more authentic.
Fortunately, this is a rare occurrence. Most real estate and title companies work hard to preserve their clients’ privacy and security. Still, it’s a good idea to act deliberately when you receive a message that suggests there may be something wrong with your transaction.
If you get a communication like this, ignore the message or hang up the phone immediately. Don’t worry about being rude, and don’t click any links, open any attachments or respond in any way. Then, run through the spotting and checking steps below before deciding how to respond.
Phishing Defense: Spotting a Scam
Phishing scams tend to have some notable red flags. Some messages may have only one red flag, while others may have multiple warning signs:
Phishing messages usually say something like “This is the payment processing department. Your payment is past due and your service will be terminated.” That sounds scary at first, but wait a minute: which company’s payment processing department is this? What is the past-due amount? What kind of service is being terminated? A legitimate organization would never be this vague.
Scammers also often communicate in weird ways. If your bank usually sends official communications via secure online message or postal mail, any text messages or emails you get claiming to be from your bank are suspicious.
Legitimate organizations make their identities clear, and they also make it easy for customers to get in touch. If you get a message with no customer service contact info, that’s a red flag.
Due to the prevalence of these scams, legitimate companies know to use familiar addresses and phone numbers to contact their customers. This means any sensitive requests that come from a completely unknown source are automatically suspicious. If the message comes via email, look into the details. Phishing scammers sometimes use bogus web addresses to appear authentic. This can include using a .net or a .com instead of a .gov, using a number or symbol that looks similar to another (like a zero instead of the letter “O”) or spelling a business’ name with one letter out of place.
Legitimate organizations usually won’t ask for or give out sensitive information like account numbers over the phone. If a communication is asking you to freely give out information that’s normally much more carefully protected, that’s a major sign that something’s wrong.
Phishing Defense: Checking Suspicious Message
After you’ve determined that you’ve received a suspicious message, your next steps are simple:
- Stay calm: Throughout your homebuying process, you may need to act fast at times, but there will never be a situation in which you have to act so quickly that you can’t think first. In fact, any circumstance in which you’re being pressured to act before you think is something to be wary of. Give yourself permission to think before you act.
- Verify with your team: First, get in touch with your Mortgage Advisor team and your real estate agent to make sure they know what’s going on. They can help you understand what’s going on and whether the message is legitimate.
- Go to the source: If your team says the communication is legit, but you still feel nervous, you can feel free to contact the bank or title company yourself to arrange a secure transaction. Just make sure to use their official customer service phone number rather than any contact information you get from a suspicious message.
Do you have any questions or concerns about the homebuying process? Contact our Mortgage Advisors and start a conversation!Home Purchase, Home Security, Home Tips, Millenials