It’s the moment everyone fears: in the frenzy to close a house sale, commitment to fraud preventions falters. Busy professionals involved in the sale override their own cautions about fending off wire fraud by reverting to tried-and-true email addresses to convey the most sensitive financial information.
Trying to keep with the drive to the finish line, the harried consumer let down their guard. Instead of questioning email directions from their agent, title insurer or lender, the consumer hits ‘reply.’
And just like that, coordinates for a wire fraud transfer of tens of thousands of dollars — even a lifetime of home equity — disappear. A digital thief hijacked the transaction, redirected the money, and disappears, leaving the shocked consumers, real estate agent, title insurer, lender and others to pick up the pieces.
Fraud prevention was slowly escalating as an industry priority when 2020’s strange confluence of factors hit.
The pandemic accelerated the use of digital tools and platforms to effect closings, while also tangling many house sales in a patchwork of paper and online functions.
As the pandemic recovery takes hold, a robust housing market has pulled fraud prevention back on track. Houses are selling faster than ever, and for more money than ever. COVID-catalyzed changes are formalizing into new fraud prevention standards, even though some in the residential real estate industry have yet to fully come on board.
Digital fraud comes at real estate transactions in several forms. Released in March, the 2020 report of the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ internet crimes operation documents significant increases in each of the categories most pertinent to residential sales: