Scammers on the Rise
Real Estate Reality By Carl Medford, CRS
“As seen in the Real Estate Reality Column in the San Leandro Times & Castro Valley Forum, written by Carl Medford”
We called a contractor’s business number to coordinate payment for a project. The person that answered identified themselves and informed us that the only way they were currently receiving payments was through Western Union. Seems there was a problem with their account and they could not process checks. “Not to worry,” they assured us, “We will give you a $500.00 discount for the inconvenience.”
We called the contractor directly on his cell phone and informed him that his main office phone number had been hijacked.
It seems that the coronavirus is not the only thing spreading like wildfire; there is no end to the number of current scams. It is well-known that in the midst of any crisis, scammers rise to the occasion to sow mayhem and reap ill-gotten proceeds. COVID-19 has been no exception.
With everything online, scammers can hack into most anything that is not properly protected. One particular scam has devastated homebuyers: hackers have been able to access email accounts and, by pretending to be title company representatives, managed to divert the buyer’s down payment by providing false wiring instructions. Once the money has been wired to the scammer it is gone for good. The buyers are out, in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars and, unable to retrieve their lost funds, are unable to complete their purchase. There is no happy ending in this scenario for the buyers or the sellers.
As a result of the increase in scammer activity, The California Association of Realtors has added a new disclosure to every transaction to help buyers and sellers understand the risks. It includes the following: “The ability to communicate and conduct business electronically is a convenience and reality in nearly all parts of our lives. At the same time, it has provided hackers and scammers new opportunities for their criminal activity. Many businesses have been victimized and the real estate business is no exception.”
- Never blindly follow email instructions. Always call the title company to verify the wiring information. You should also receive a written copy of their wiring instructions during your final signing – make sure the numbers match.
- Ensure that all your online accounts have difficult passwords. Using personal information or dates is not a good idea – passwords should use random letters, numbers and other characters.
Above all, be extremely vigilant – a scam has the potential to ruin your life.
Carl Medford is a licensed Realtor with Keller Williams Realty and a licensed general contractor. This article is sponsored by the Central County Marketing Association.