Real estate is not easy to buy online–after all, you should probably see a house before you buy or rent it. However, even before the coronavirus epidemic, an increasing amount of the real estate buying process was going digital. You can browse properties from thousands of miles away and even take virtual tours.
But before you get actual money involved, be advised that scammers are taking advantage of security weaknesses and gullible buyers. Here’s what you need to know.
If you’re looking to rent in a competitive area, such as New York City, watch out for fake brokers. These con artists offer great properties at prices that are too good to be true. That’s because the prices are, in fact, too good–and the photos are often stolen from legitimate real estate listings.
This scheme also pops up on Craigslist. Scammers steal photos from homes that are currently for sale. Then they list the property for “rent” at an unbeatable price. If you contact them about the deal, they’ll use high-pressure tactics to get you to put down a deposit or “non-refundable application fee” right away.
You’re about to close on your house and get an email from your real estate agent’s office. There’s been an issue with the closing, and you need to act fast! The email instructs you to click on a link and complete a wire transfer.
At a glance, it seems legit. The logo and letterhead match other messages you’ve seen from the agency, and the email looks vaguely familiar.
But we’re talking thousands of dollars, so take a closer look. Is the email address misspelled? Do you detect anything fishy about the message–typos or a new sense of urgency in the wording?
Real estate closing scams are all too common. If you think you might be the target, call your agent using a verified number right away. Whatever you do, don’t send the money without confirming that the payment instructions have changed. It’s very, very rare to make those changes at the last minute.
Real estate scams like these have been around for decades, so why are they on the rise now? The pandemic has forced the industry to adapt quickly, moving most of its business online. That includes not only real estate agents but also lenders, lawyers, and even notaries.
Because they had to scramble to move their businesses online, security is sometimes not as tight as it should be. In the midst of the confusion and fast-paced changes, people slip up. And where there’s confusion, there are scammers.
Hackers are exploiting lax security to access email accounts and create fake correspondence. They’re phishing for information, stealing account numbers, and intercepting wire transfers.
Be wary and trust your instincts.