NWIA REALTORS® Warn of Dangerous New Fraud Scheme

Northwest Iowa REALTORS® are warning residents about two scams taking place in the real estate industry.

“Recently we’ve seen an increase across the country in e-mail phishing attacks on both REALTORS® and their clients,” said Kelly Burge, CEO of the Northwest Iowa Regional Board of REALTORS®.  “Hackers are surreptitiously logging into the e-mails of REALTORS® and their clients, and waiting patiently for the right moment.  When it’s time to wire funds for the closure of a sale, a fraudulent e-mail is being sent by the hacker to the buyer with phony wiring instructions.  The e-mail looks very legitimate and appears to have come from the agent or the closing company, but it includes instructions that result in the wired funds being sent to the hacker rather than the account to close the real estate transaction.  This is resulting in the theft of significant funds from legitimate, hard-working buyers across the nation.”

Burge says it’s important for both REALTORS® and their clients to be vigilant. “Our members are aware of this issue, and they’re alerting all their clients,” she says. “Members of the home buying public need to know that if they receive wiring instructions via e-mail, they need to pick up the phone and place a call to their agent and their closing company to make sure the message is legitimate.”

Hackers are so crafty as to even change the phone number on the phony e-mail, Burge said.  “Make sure that when you’re placing that call, you’re doing so to the phone number of record for the company.  Don’t use a phone number from the e-mail, because hackers can redirect your call with relative ease.  Be sure to look up the number yourself online or in a phone book.”

In addition to the wiring fraud, REALTORS® continue to see a second scam in the region, this time involving rental properties.

“We continue to see REALTOR® member listings being stolen by scammers and published on sites like Craigslist,” said Burge.  In these cases, scammers steal legitimate photos from real estate websites like realtor.com® and post them as though the property is available to rent.

Scammers will typically make up a plausible story that requires the consumer to wire or mail money without ever meeting in person. The problem generally only comes to light when a party tries to move in and discovers the property was never truly available for rent in the first place.

Members of the public are reminded to adhere to the old adage, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.” When a for sale sign is in the yard, it’s best to call the company directly to inquire about the availability of a property for rent, even if it’s listed on a rental website.

Signs of a rental scam often include a request to wire money without meeting an owner or property superintendent, and no access to view the property in advance of wiring funds.  A real estate sign in the yard indicating the property is for sale should also prompt a consumer to conduct an additional investigation when looking to secure a rental.

Members of the public with questions are encouraged to contact a REALTOR® member in their area.  The Northwest Iowa Regional Board of REALTORS® is one of the largest real estate associations in the state of Iowa and serves residents in a 13 county region.

Find more details in this video, courtesy of the Washington State Association of REALTORS®.