Can You Avoid Real Estate Wire Fraud?

Technology allows us to do incredible things: snap a photo and share it instantly across the globe, connect wirelessly to vast stores of information, or transfer money in a matter of seconds without having to worry about handling cash. 

And yet, as our modern society has advanced and developed endless solutions that save consumers time and money, so too have the ways in which consumers can be duped by increasingly sophisticated online criminals looking to defraud them.

Understanding How Modern Wire Fraud Happens

What was once a chain email encouraging you to donate funds to support a down-on-his-luck prince, is now a fraudulent email account diverting funds from a wire transfer — only noticeable when the awaiting account notifies you that the funds have not appeared.

Wire transfers are a common target because they can be intercepted and once the money is gone, it’s very difficult — if not impossible — to retrieve. Still, in many circumstances, wire transfers are the safest or only way to complete transactions, such as making large or international purchases where carrying cash is neither feasible nor advisable. 

International Real Estate Wire Fraud Risk

As transactions have gotten more complex — and more convenient — it’s also easier than ever to fall into a scammer’s trap.

Over the years, money transfer scam artists have improved their methods, with some even able to monitor communications and anticipate large sums of money — especially from international real estate transactions — and divert it into their own accounts.

The trick may seem obvious when you read about it in a newspaper, but tactics are ever-changing, and when you’re in the situation you may not be as skeptical. If your only goal is to complete a sale and start enjoying your new vacation home, you might not be looking for signs of fraud — because if you don’t see anything wrong, nothing can go wrong, right?

How International Real Estate Wire Fraud Works

Let’s break it down. During a common wire transfer, you transfer money from one domestic bank to another. The two banks use a secure line to facilitate the transfer. Within a matter of hours, the money is moved into the new account. For international transfers, this process is a bit longer and more complex. 

Instead of minutes or hours, international wire transfers can take up to a few days — which means, if the money is taken during the transfer, you won’t realize it until days after the fact. By then, someone may be enjoying your savings on a beach somewhere and you’ll be left with no recourse.

Here’s how international real estate wire fraud could happen:

  • Criminals gain access to a title company or bank’s email server to monitor real estate transactions. 
  • When they find one they want to target, they impersonate an individual involved with the closing and email the bank or the buyer with alternate wire transfer instructions. 
  • When the wire transfer is initiated, the funds are transferred into the criminal’s account. 

The criminal can move on with the money from the sale with none the wiser until it becomes apparent later that the seller did not receive their money. By then, the criminal has deleted the email account and covered their tracks.

To avoid falling into this trap, it’s more important than ever for consumers to be aware of the signs of fraud and the potential security risks of handling transactions electronically.

Protect Yourself Against Real Estate Wire Fraud

In many cases, a wire transfer is still the safest, fastest, and most secure way to complete a transaction. As long as you are aware of the signs of fraud, take care to verify details along the way, and work with agencies who will uphold secure practices, you can complete the process with minimal risk.

Watch for the Signs of Wire Fraud

When moving through the wire transfer process, stay alert for anything that seems suspicious. Common signs of fraud include: changing instructions or account numbers, fraudulent emails, requests to change the day or time of the transfer, or misspellings and grammatical errors. 

If anything seems off, it’s always best to call up your bank or escrow company to confirm that the email you received was sent from their agency. Never send account information via email if you can avoid it.

Double-Check Details and Instructions

Double-check with the agency facilitating the transaction, and confirm all phone numbers and email addresses via a secure communication method before transferring money or sensitive documents online. Be sure to verify that the account number is correct before the wire transfer and keep clear records of all transactions.

Work With a Trusted, Secure Escrow Company

If you plan to make a big purchase using a wire transfer, especially an international one, it’s a smart idea to work with a reliable escrow company that can handle the transaction securely. 

An escrow company works to protect all parties during the transaction — from any type of deceit, including wire fraud. They will facilitate the transaction by ensuring the funds are transferred securely from the buyer, held in a safe location within the US, and that the sales contract is fulfilled before releasing funds to the seller.

Global Escrow Solutions cares about your security when buying real estate internationally. Our 100% attorney-owned and operated escrow company is fluent in the international markets in which we work every day. We understand the stakes and we look out for our clients’ best interests. With the best customer service and internet security protocols, you can trust that the Global Escrow Solutions team is prepared to help you complete your transaction efficiently and effortlessly. 

Get in touch with us to learn more about how we can help you buy with confidence.