A Kansas City, Missouri, couple lost their entire $130,000 down payment on a home purchase from a money wire scam that has been increasingly targeting real estate transactions.
Ross and Melinda Fulton were purchasing a home to live closer to their daughters and new granddaughter in the Kansas City area. Ross, a retired pastor of 46 years, and Melinda found the perfect home in Independence, Missouri, and were planning to pay for it with cash.
They received an email from someone they thought was their real estate agent. The message was sent from an iPhone and was signed with their agent’s name. As reported by KSHB-41 Kansas City, the email read:
Hello Ross and Melinda, In preparation for your closing on the 30th of November. The closing balance will be required to be wired 26th of November. I would like to know if you will be able to perform the wire on the 26th, so I can inform (actual title company's name).
Melinda replied that they’d be bringing their checkbook. She then received this message back, again signed by her real estate agent:
Hello Melinda, Due to the increasing incidence of fraud with certified bank checks, we will require all funds needed for closing to be tendered in the form of a wire transfer. We no longer accept certified checks as good funds.
The Fultons wired the money. The money is now gone with little chance of getting it back.
“It looks as though someone had been monitoring our emails with our Realtor, and at the important time entered in and gave us instructions for wiring money to a bank account representing the title agency and we followed those instructions with our bank and sent the money away,” Melinda told KSHB-41.
The scammer knew the address of the home they were buying, their Realtor’s name, email address, title company’s name, and closing date.
Real estate professionals are encouraged to warn their clients that this could happen to them, too, and make sure they take the proper precautions. Paul Hentzen, the couple’s attorney, offers the following tips:
Verify wire fraud directions through a phone call.
Watch email addresses closely. The Fulton’s case did show a slight difference in the email address of their agent. KSHB-41 included an example, with the names changed, of how the scammer's email address was different: email@example.com (real) vs. firstname.lastname@example.org (fake).
Watch for any syntax errors such as words missing, or differences in how the person has talked or communicated to you previously. Hentzen provides the following example of syntax errors: “The closing balance will be required to be wired 26th of November. I would like to know if you will be able to perform the wire on the 26th, so I can inform.”
Protect your transactions by reading more guidance from the National Association of Realtors: Protecting Your Business and Your Clients From Cyberfraud.
This article was contributed to The Log by National Association of Realtors.