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Ask The Expert

By Wanda Norge

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the National Association of Realtors want to make you aware of a national cyber-scam that steals money directly from homebuyers and sellers.

Here's how the scam works: Hackers break into an email account of a real estate professional, title company, or consumer to search for upcoming real estate transactions, contact information and closing dates. Then, hackers pose as the agent or title officer and email the homebuyer with last-minute changes to wiring instructions. They may slightly modify an email address. Such a minor change can go unnoticed. By the time anyone realizes that something is wrong, the money has gone to an untraceable bank account, leaving people at the closing table with no funds to purchase the home.

This happened to a couple from Longmont earlier this year that were selling their home and buying a new home in Parker. They lost $272,000 – their proceeds from the sale that was to be used as their down payment. This case turned into a lawsuit involving the bank, real estate agents, title company and lender.

Here are a few things you can do to make sure you don't fall victim to this scam:

Verbally contact the person/Be alert: Prior to wiring any money, verbally contact the title company person handling your transaction. Confirm the wiring information is accurate. Your real estate broker or loan officer can get you the correct title person contact number, but this is also located on your title documents from the transaction.

Use secure document technology: DocuSign, RightSignature, zipLogix, Dropbox, can be used for sharing or signing sensitive documents. Emails and texts are not secure methods to transmit financial information. If you do send financial documents via email, make sure it is password protected.

Do not conduct business over public Wi-Fi: Don’t click on links to get to websites. Instead, search to find the company and directly link to their website from your search.

Use Secure websites for financial 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.

Update your computer: Keep your operating system, browser and security software up-to-date.

If this type of scam does happen to you, know that your bank can initiate the Financial Fraud Kill Chain (FFKC) if it meets these criteria: 1) the wire transfer occurred within the last 72 hours, 2) is international, 3) the amount is $50,000 or more and 4) a SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication) recall notice has been initiated.

This FBI program is designed to recover funds for customers who have been victimized by fraudulent international wire schemes. Any wire transfers that occur outside of these thresholds should still be reported to law enforcement.

Wanda Norge, Mortgage Consultant, Certified Divorce Lending Professional, Equilane Lending, LLC (NMLS: 387869), 20-year Evergreen resident, lending for 14 years. Phone: 303-419-6568, loans@wandanorge.com, www.wandanorge.com. NMLS:280102, MB:100018754