“Pick up the phone,” Peter Uzzolino of Acres Title Company is adamant. The best way to protect yourself from wire scams is to “pick up the phone.”
Peter explained how hackers break into attorney’s email accounts, insert their own message, their own wire instructions – and poof! People have lost $189,000 – their entire deposit. “It is gone,” he says, “And they will never get it back”.
These funds are not insured like credit cards. The money that buyers wire to their attorney’s escrow account – are their own funds and they are responsible for them. Peter recommends two solutions:
Peter told me horror stories. People who think they have sent the money to their attorneys a week before the close, find out the day of that the funds were never received. Poof! $139,000 gone.
He also told me about attorneys – and a title company – who failed to verify receipt of funds. They closed on the house, allowed the buyers to move in, when they realized the money had been stolen, had to ask them to move out!
How can this happen to us? Peter says in one instance the hackers changed the attorney’s email by one letter, so instead of JoeSmithLLC@aol.com , the email was from JoeSmithILC@aol.com. He says you can barely tell the difference. He also thinks that people will be safer if they stop using free email service, like yahoo, msn, and aol.
Peter says, “ NEVER call the phone number provided on the wire instructions”. Instead, call the number of your attorney, or your real estate agent. Peter says, “Don’t be lazy! Call and verify.”
What else to know?
Carrie Schwartz has similar advice. Carrie says, “Stay Away!” from all the financial questions. Carrie explained, “I think of the transaction like a sandwich, I am the meat, and I am not the lettuce, or the bread. I leave all the financial issues for the other people involved. When I get call from someone who asks me about the transaction it is a red flag.”
“First of all, I have to protect my clients’ privacy. If I get a call from someone I do not know, I do not tell the person anything. But it happens. People call fishing for information. New agents might be vulnerable; they might think they are being helpful. I say, “Stay Away!” or, like Peter says, ‘Pick up the phone!’.”
This summer Carrie did pick up the phone – to protect a client. Carrie had been copied on an email from her client to her attorney. When Carrie saw that her client was asking for the wire instructions, she called the client. “I said, No, No, No”.
“Never ask for wire instructions via email.”
Carrie said it is much safer to get the wire instructions over the phone. She repeats Peter’s message – “if they steal the wired money, you will never see it again”.
Our dear readers, and friends, we hope we have convinced you: avoid the heartache, pick up the phone!