Hackers are posing mortgage and title insurance company employees in order to steal the down payments of homebuyers in one of the wealthiest cities in the country.
Police in Southlake, Texas, a suburb of the Dallas/Ft. Worth Metroplex and the fourth wealthiest city in the U.S., based on data from the Census Bureau, issued a warning this week about scammers who are hacking into the email accounts of real estate professionals and then pose as title company employees in order to steal a homebuyer’s down payment.
And in Southlake, the down payments can be quite high.
According to data from Zillow, the median home value in Southlake is $686,200, the median price of homes currently listed in the area is $995,000, and the median price of homes recently sold is $606,500.
According to the Southlake PD, they’ve seen about 10 cases in the last six months where hackers attempted to steal a homebuyer’s down payment.
And this is hardly the first time a scam like this has been uncovered.
Nearly two years ago, the Federal Trade Commission and the National Association of Realtors issued a warning to people interested in buying a home about scammers who were posing as real estate agents, Realtors and title insurance companies to steal consumers’ closing costs.
Last year, the American Land Title Association said that the previous warning from the FTC and NAR didn’t do enough to protect consumers and the group wanted the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to issue a warning of its own.
Then, the FTC and NAR issued another warning, but that didn’t stop the scammers from stealing from unwitting buyers.
And now, scammers appear to have their sights set on the expensive real estate and high-dollar down payments in Southlake.
According to the Southlake PD, the details of the scheme are similar to previous schemes.
Hackers find a way to get into the email accounts of real estate agents, Realtors, or title insurance company employees. Then, they use that access to obtain information about upcoming real estate transactions.
After that, the hacker sends an email to the homebuyer, pretending to be the title company that’s being used for the closing.
The email tells the buyer that there has been a last-minute change to the wiring instructions, and instructs the buyer to wire their money to a different account. And then, the money is gone.
In this case, the scammers appear to be impersonating title company employees and sending emails to buyers, telling them that they need the buyers’ down payment immediately and providing them with wiring instructions.
But the accounts belong to the scammers, not the title companies.
Here’s how the Southlake police describes the situation, including noting how much money a down payment can be in Southlake:
Hackers are finding a way to get into the emails of realtors/mortgage companies/title companies to send you these bogus requests. These guys are GOOD, and as you can probably guess, the down payment on a house here in Southlake isn’t a mere $20K.
The police also provide some tips for the buyers and for the real estate professionals to avoid falling prey to one of the schemes.
“If you’re in the process of buying or selling and you receive an email request for money, call your mortgage or title company immediately before sending off funds,” the police warn homebuyers.
“Double check your emails and look for slightly off verbiage and misspellings,” the police continue. “Look at the email address it came from—in our cases, the suspect email was one or two letters off the regular email address of your trusted contact.”
And for the mortgage and title company employees, the police’s advice is a little more blunt.
“And if you’re a mortgage or title company, please stop using public Wi-Fi to communicate, because that’s how they’re getting in! We’re doing the best we can on our end, but we need your help!,” the police say.
Another reason to stay off that public Wi-Fi.