Profit-Motivated Hackers Continue to Target Real Estate Transactions

The NJCCIC continues to receive reports from members involved in real estate transactions – including agents, lawyers, title agencies, and buyers – detailing incidents in which they were targets of profit-motivated hackers who attempted to defraud them out of thousands of dollars. These schemes are perpetuated in a couple of ways. In some instances, hackers target and gain access to the email accounts of real estate agents, title agency representatives, paralegals, or homebuyers through the use of compromised account credentials and use them to send convincing emails to targeted victims. In other cases, hackers impersonate a known real estate agent or title agent by spoofing their email addresses and sending financial requests associated with a specific transaction to homebuyers. The subject and body of these emails will often portray a sense of urgency in an attempt to have targets immediately wire money before they have an opportunity to fully review the email’s content and question its legitimacy. In addition to reports the NJCCIC has received, NJ.com recently reported a similar incident in which a compromised email account led to the loss of over $91,000. In most cases, these scams are relatively simple for the criminals to conduct, but the consequences can be devastating. The NJCCIC recommends homebuyers and real estate entities educate themselves and others on these malicious tactics and remain vigilant during and immediately after the closing process. We strongly recommend real estate businesses, including real estate attorneys and title agencies, implement new policies aimed at preventing fraudulent wire transfers and other scams. For example, forbid the sharing of wire transfer account information via email and instead utilize video chat applications, phone calls from trusted numbers, or in-person meetings. Additionally, buyers should never trust email as the sole source of instruction for wiring money related to these transactions and instead receive confirmation of these details in person or over the phone.