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Homebuyers beware: Scam targets people heading to closing

Scammers target prospective homebuyers with bogus emails as they are about to close on the sale.
Scammers target prospective homebuyers with bogus emails as they are about to close on the sale. AP

There’s nothing more exciting and nerve-racking than buying a house. And, with the state of the Treasure Valley housing demand, a number of you may be home shopping right now. The process is hard enough to navigate smoothly on its own and the last thing you need is a scammer ripping you off just as you think the deal is done.

Scammers have their eyes on the large amount of money exchanged between buyers and sellers. Homebuyers are vulnerable as they can spend months corresponding with real estate professionals via emails. This creates a situation bad guys are eager to take advantage of. According to the Federal Trade Commission, scammers hack the email accounts of buyers and real estate professionals, including agents and title companies. They then send a message from the compromised account to the buyer with fraudulent wire instructions, claiming there’s been a last-minute change to the wiring instructions for the down payment and closing costs. The customer is then directed to pay closing costs to a fake bank account. Once the money is transferred, it’s almost impossible to get back.

And make no mistake, even professionals overseeing major organizations can fall victim to these illegal practices. Several media reports detailed how Southern Oregon University in Ashland lost nearly $2 million when payment for construction of a new recreation center was sent to a fake account.

If you get an email that seems suspicious or asks you to change course on your closing procedures, keep these tips in mind:

▪  Verify independently. Call the professionals involved; do not respond to the email directly.

▪  Do not click links or download attachments in unexpected emails as you could expose your device to malware. Remember, if scammers have hacked an email account, they can see how previous correspondence looks and make their fake email very convincing.

▪  Don’t email sensitive financial information, and if you are doing any part of your homebuying process online, ensure you are on a secured connection, and the site is secure before entering any information. Look for an “https” preceding the web address.

If you’ve already fallen for something like this, report it immediately. The FTC advises buyers who’ve wired the payment through their bank to request an immediate wire recall. If you used a transfer company, contact their customer support services.

If you come across this scam, even if no money is lost, warn others about it. If the email appears to be from someone you know, give them a call and let them know they’ve been hacked, as they will want to warn other clients. Report it to bbb.org/ScamTracker.

Emily Valla, emily.valla@thebbb.org, is the Idaho marketplace director for the Better Business Bureau Northwest. To check a business or report a scam, go to www.bbb.org or call (208) 342-4649.

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