SCAM, HACKING, AND EMAIL FRAUD
If you’ve ever looked at your junk email folder and wondered how you ever became so popular, you’re not alone. I wonder the same, albeit I’m in business with an email address readily and easily found on the web.
Since cyber security and email fraud is a real thing for real estate agents, lenders and title companies, it’s very important that you remain vigilant when buying or selling property. Vigilance means looking at and for the sender’s address of any email to determine if it’s legit, and if in doubt making a call to a phone number “known” to you to inquire.
As an agent/broker working with you as a home buyer, I will never ask you for financial information, via email or in person. I do not ask about your income, where you work, or your employment history. I do not ask about assets, and debts/liabilities. I do not ask for your social security number, date of birth, pay stubs, credit score, credit report, or for a copy of your tax return. I will need bank statements equaling the full purchase price if (and only if) you’re an all cash buyer, but don’t need it otherwise. PLEASE DO NOT RESPOND should you receive a request for any of these by email! These are email scams. And please don’t voluntarily send your financials to “show” me. No person, group or corporation is impervious from hacking, and I worry about keeping your information safe.
Your financial information is to be shared with the lender of your choosing, and the Pre-Qualification Letter I receive from him or her is all I need to do my job. Yes, we will discuss closing costs, but in that I am not gleaning your personal information. Instead I am giving you a projection of your out of pocket expense(s).
If you have decided to make loan application online, do make sure the website is secure and your information encrypted! To be certain you have landed on the correct website, try opening it in several browsers to ensure the landing page is the same as you compare the page between browsers. If anything looks suspicious, close the page and clear your browser(s)! Call the lender’s office phone number instead and have them take your application by phone. Notice I wrote “office phone number.” Most loan officers have direct numbers enabling you to bypass the office, but if you’re concerned about security you will want to hear “Acme Lending, Bank of Coyote, or Road Runner Mortgage.”
The title company we will use to issue title insurance and handle the escrow process will need some personal information from you. The forms to be completed and signed will be delivered to you via US Mail or by email, with email being the most popular. In most cases they can be returned to the title company via email, but there are other options available. You can return them by US Mail, fax, drop them off at the company’s office, or place them in an envelope and give them to me for return in person or using the title company’s local “runner” service. Email or fax will be easiest, but are they secure? Call your escrow officer for the answer.
So, while the paragraphs above refer to identity theft, there is a way for thieves to scam you out of your cash when closing your transaction. This is how:
Several days before close of escrow, the title company will produce a Settlement Statement showing the amount of money due to complete your purchase. This amount includes your down payment, lender costs and all other closing costs, minus credits and pro-rations appearing as credits. Along with this statement, the title company will ask if you want to wire the necessary funds from your bank directly to them.
Pay attention!! This is NOT an ordinary email! Be wary of scams! Wire instructions will NOT be contained in the body. Instead, you will be directed to the title company’s website where a username and password are required to access the amount due and wiring instructions. Always, always confirm the wire instructions with a phone call to your escrow officer and I can confirm the information you receive as a double-check. Similar to your earnest money check, closing costs are paid to title companies – NO exception.
Instead of creating last minute anxiety and concern, the easiest and most secure way to pay your closing costs remains a cashier’s check, payable to the title company (of course,) which should be delivered two to three business days prior to your closing date, typically handed to your escrow agent at the time you will sign your documents.
Scams, hacking and email fraud are prolific. As such, we must remain vigilant!