Consumer Alert: Colorado home buyers and sellers urged to beware of email scams with fraudulent wire transfer instructions

Cybercriminals targeting home buyers and sellers nationwide. 
Tips on how to protect yourself.

DENVER (Dec. 13, 2016) -- The Colorado Division of Real Estate at the Department of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) warns Colorado consumers to beware of a national cyber-scam currently taking place that steals money directly from home buyers and sellers.

The Division continues to receive information about this cyber scam in which cybercriminals hack the email accounts of real estate brokers, title companies, and consumers who are in the process of buying or selling a home. In other instances, they create alternative email accounts with just minor changes to the name of the email account, which typically goes unnoticed by the recipient of the email.  

“Unfortunately the costs to Colorado consumers can be in the tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars with just one successful scam,” stated Marcia Waters, Director of the Division of Real Estate. “Unless you pay very close attention, everything may look right -- the email signature, address and the website. But, by the time homebuyers realize something is wrong, the money is already gone and in an untraceable bank account, leaving them at the closing table with no money and eliminating their ability to purchase the home.”

This past February, a Colorado seller lost over $80,000 from the sale of their property to one of these scams.

How do the scams work? Often the computer hackers monitor email exchanges between the parties of a real estate transaction and gain specific information, such as the buyer and seller names, subject property address and file numbers. As the closing date approaches and arrangements are made to wire the money to the closing company, or wire the proceeds from the sale of the house to the sellers, the scammer will send a last-minute email from a hijacked account or similar looking email address updating the wiring instructions to request the money be transferred into a fraudulent bank account. The email looks legitimate and often contains the transaction specific information the hackers obtained in the body of the email or as an attachment.

“This scam reflects the increasing technical sophistication of computer hackers and all home buyers and sellers are potential victims,” noted Waters.

Buyers and sellers can take just five minutes by reading the below tips to protect themselves from becoming a victim of wire fraud:

  • Verbally contact your broker:  Prior to wiring any money, you should always verbally contact your real estate broker to confirm that the wiring information is accurate. Do not rely on telephone numbers or website addresses provided within an unverified email.
  • Do not email financial information:  Emails and texts are not secure methods to transmit financial information.
  • Keep a record of websites that hold your financial information:  And before providing that information, confirm that the  websites in which you input financial information are secure. Look for the URL to start HTTPS, the “S” stands for secure.
  • Don’t click on links:  Don’t use links in emails to get to websites. Instead, search and find the company and directly link to their website from your search.
  • Update your computer:  Keep your operating system, browser and security software up-to-date.

If you have experienced this fraudulent activity, you can report it to the Federal Bureau of Investigations through its Internet Crime Complaint Center or report to Stop Fraud Colorado.

The Division of Real Estate is the licensing, regulation and enforcement agency for the real estate broker, appraiser, community association manager and mortgage loan originator industries. The Division also registers homeowner’s associations and certifies the holders of conservation easements.

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Media Contacts:
Eric Turner 
Division of Real Estate
P 303-894-2424
eric.turner@state.co.us