Real estate closings have become more convenient with the advancement of technology and now, almost every part of the transaction can be done electronically. While this has helped streamline and expedite real estate transactions, it has also opened the door for many new forms of fraud, phishing, and cyber-attacks.
In 2020 alone, approximately 13,640 people were reported victims of real estate related cyber fraud for a total loss of over $213 million nationwide. Many of these attacks happen through Business Email Compromise or Email Account Compromise, called BEC or EAC, a type of cyber-attack that has seen over a 1000% increase in prevalence since 2017. With BEC/EAC, an individual involved in a transaction (a real estate agent, title company, or financial institution) has their personal or business email account compromised, which allows an outside party to gain access to emails that contain important personal or financial documentation.
Once an email account has been compromised, the individuals involved in the transaction may not even know. A particularly stealthy scammer may be able to sit in an email account for weeks or months before their presence is noticed. Not only do they do this to steal financial and personal information, but they also gain insight into the financial institutions involved in these transactions so that they can create falsified documents and attempt to intercept wires or pay-offs that may cost clients hundreds or thousands of dollars.
How do We Provide Secure Closings?
Although it may seem like the chances of getting scammed are low, we see attempted scams every single day at our office and have had clients come close to losing thousands of dollars. We have implemented many scam-awareness procedures but the number one weapon we have against these cyber-attacks is our secure real estate closing system, Qualia. This system does a lot of great things – streamlines closings, stores and secures documents, tracks milestones, and keeps everyone informed – but most importantly, it secures messaging during the transaction.
As soon as we receive the contract, all involved parties are entered into our system and will be asked to create an account where they can log in and access their closing. This might seem like an unnecessary, extra step when you could simply send an email, but you should never sacrifice your financial security for convenience. Qualia provides peace of mind by locking any and all communication with involved parties behind another, more secure log in. It also allows you to upload requested documents and complete forms securely so that you never have to send important personal information through an unsecured channel.
With our system, a scammer would have to get access to both your email and your Qualia log in to be able to steal information related to your closing or intercept messages. It also means that they would have to get access to our system to try and send you fraudulent requests because if our communication isn’t coming through Qualia, it’s not coming from us.
Tips to Stay Protected from Email Scams
- Never send a wire to anyone without calling to verify the account, especially if they sent you the full account number via email.
- Always look up an institution’s phone number on their website, do not use phone numbers from emails.
- Double check the sender’s email on any message you receive. Don’t just look at the name on the email, actually confirm that the sender’s email address is correct.
- Don’t click on suspicious links sent to you via email during your transaction, especially if you don’t recognize the sender.
- Make sure your password for your email, bank, and any closing system (like Qualia) are all different and unique to those accounts.
- Consider using checks instead of wires. A check can be cancelled but a wire is gone as soon as it leaves your account and there is little to no way to get it back. Other parties in your transaction are not held responsible if you fall victim to a scam.
For more information about fraud in the real estate industry, please visit our fraud awareness resource page where you can learn about common real estate scams, phishing, cyber-attacks, and how to avoid becoming a victim.