This is the refrain repeated by so many home buyers who lost or almost lost their savings from a wire fraud attempt during the process of buying a home: “If only I had known.”
Those of us in the real estate industry are very aware of the potential risks of wiring money in an age where cybercriminals continually challenge the security of digital communications. Home buyers and sellers are largely unaware of the dangers, unless the real estate, mortgage and title professionals working with them communicate it loud and clear. We at Independence Title inform clients of the risks and suggest safe protocols in our communications with them numerous times during the transaction, in a variety of ways. However, all of us in the real estate industry needs to be shouting louder and more often about it. There is no such thing as under-communicating on this topic!
Earlier this year, the Texas Association of Realtors developed a form that makes it easier than ever to communicate the importance of protecting your clients and yourself from wire thieves. The title of TAR form 2517 says it all, Wire Fraud Warning.
This form does a great job of explaining the potential risks of transferring funds via wire and how to minimize those risks. It’s a great way to help inform your buyers, and sellers so they can take steps to protect themselves, and one more opportunity for them to hear and understand the risks.
Most fraud attempts involve a criminal hijacking the email of some party to the transaction and sending a fraudulent communication to a buyer or seller with wiring instructions that direct funds to the criminal’s bank account. Some attempts have even included phone calls and texts from the fraudster impersonating a Realtor, mortgage lender or escrow officer confirming the “secure receipt” of the false instructions; early bird discounts for wiring and/or threats that not sending the wire could wreck the transaction.
Independence Title strongly suggests that buyers and sellers use cashier’s checks as the safer choice for bringing money to closing. In most cases, consumers already must go to their bank in person to initiate a wire. It’s simple and in most cases cheaper to get a cashier’s check instead. In years past, on cash transactions, there have been instances of fraudulent cashier’s checks but that’s a risk that impacts the title company only and at Independence, we are absolutely willing to shoulder that responsibility in the interest of protecting consumer’s funds.
If you have any questions about your options on how to bring funds to closing, we have several resources on our website and you can always contact your escrow team.
A special note to Realtors: the next time you’re writing up an offer for your buyer or negotiating a contract for your seller, don’t forget TAR form 2517. It’s an important step for the education and protection of all parties!