October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month. For lots of you in the real estate world, that means continuing to protect – and educate – your customers about wire fraud. If you haven’t used it yet, the ALTA-backed Coalition to Stop Real Estate Wire Fraud is a great resource on the subject.
Bowe Digital recently talked to one of the stakeholders involved in the coalition, Rich Hopen. Rich is both a real estate broker and a wire fraud/mortgage payoff scam victim himself. (To learn more about Rich’s story, click here.)
Even with the increased talk around the subject, Rich said “the awareness around wire fraud is happening very slowly. I can still go out and talk to almost anyone, and they just don’t understand it or know about it.” We hope by sharing our discussion with you that we can keep the discussion going.
Q: What’s one of your biggest concerns when it comes to spreading awareness around wire fraud?
There is still a lack of data. The FBI tracks incidents that are reported to its internet crime website, www.ic3.gov. Yet, it's unlikely the data portrays the (true) scope of the problem. When my mortgage payoff was stolen, I didn't complete the incident form because I wasn't comfortable sharing my financial data. I suspect other victims feel the same way. Also, the FBI’s real estate fraud category is too broad.
The best source of data are title companies. They're at ground zero when the crime occurs. They are often the first parties to discover when money is stolen by cyber criminals. I'd love to see a process whereby title companies anonymously report wire fraud incidents to an association.
We have stories of real estate wire fraud victims, but without solid data, I don't think the problem will be widely reported.
Q: Why do you think awareness around this is just starting to grow?
I've been immersed in this issue since I was victimized early 2018. I'm still shocked how long it's taking for real estate wire fraud to receive the attention and resources it deserves. It's rare for me to find a non-real estate professional who has heard about the problem. More industry resources need to be focused on educating professionals and consumers.
Q: What can title companies do to help?
Title companies should ensure their clients understand the risk of wiring money and how to minimize or eliminate those risks. Warnings on email footers or signed disclosures aren't enough. Title company employees who interact directly with clients need to have a conversation about wire fraud.
Q: What are some main goals for the Coalition to Stop Real Estate Wire Fraud going forward?
Require real estate professionals to learn more about wire fraud so they can advise their clients how to safely wire money; encourage title companies and brokerages to purchase software that verifies identities of those who send and receive wired funds, and revise wire deposit banking regulations to require banks to match an account number with the account name before depositing funds. And, perhaps most importantly, directly communicate with potential home buyers about the growing threat throughout the home purchasing process.
Richard Hopen is a real estate broker and advisory board member of the Coalition to Stop Real Estate Wire Fraud. Learn more at www.stopwirefraud.org.
How many times have you heard the words “wire fraud” in the last week? If your answer is a lot, that’s actually a great thing! But, if your answer is not at all, we have a problem.
The industry has been ramping up efforts to fend off these threats over the last couple of years. However, we can’t let our guard down because there’s still a long way to go until everyone (this includes buyers & sellers) understands the gravity of the situation. Staying vigilant against wire fraud should be so top-of-mind that it comes up in every real estate conversation.
Because this issue is so important to us and our partners, Bowe Digital sat down with wire fraud expert Tom Cronkright, the CEO of CertifID, to learn more about the topic in general as well as what we all need to be keeping tabs on in the future.
Q: Why do you have a passion for wire fraud protection?
Cronkright: Back in 2015, we fell victim to wire fraud (Cronkright owns a title company in Michigan as well) and went through the experience ourselves, losing nearly $200,000. It was a sophisticated wire fraud scheme that was orchestrated by cyber criminals in six different countries. We were called to testify against one of the syndicate leaders in a criminal trial in October 2018.
Over the last three years, we’ve continued to witness the level of sophistication grow exponentially.
Q: What’s the No. 1 misconception when it comes to wire fraud and real estate?
Cronkright: One of the biggest assumptions is that someone else is going to communicate the information to the party that needs it, meaning someone else will share the threat of wire fraud with them. Each transaction participant (agent, title provider, lender etc.) needs to find a way to deliver a proper and timely notice around the risk of wire fraud so that buyers and sellers know what to look for and how to respond to a fraud attempt.
Q: What do you wish more people understood about wire fraud?
Cronkright: The level of timing and sophistication of fraud schemes continues to evolve, and the threat increases year over year. We need to take this on as industry participants and protect the consumers that have hired us to protect them and deliver a great closing experience. Educating and engaging consumers about the issue mitigates risk for all parties involved in the transaction.
Q: What are your top two recommendations for protecting yourself against wire fraud?
Cronkright: First, people need to make it a standard procedure to confirm the identity and bank account credentials before funds are moved. Secondly, industry participants need to require that all referral partners have enabled multi-factor authentication on their email accounts. Email accounts need to be secured in order to keep cyber perpetrators out of the transaction.
Q: What’s the next big thing in wire fraud? Are there any new trends?
Cronkright: Mortgage payoff scams are the fastest growing payoff vector. Fraudsters know how mortgage payoff statements are delivered from lenders to title and escrow companies. They intercept or “update” them at critical points in the transaction which make them believable.
In addition, buyers of real estate are being targeted the first week of a transaction. Large earnest money deposits and cash transactions seem to be a big target this year as fraudsters divert wire transfers to accounts under their control.
Q: What else should title companies know?
Cronkright: This is an issue that faces every consumer in every real estate transaction. They’re after the life savings of everyday consumers.
That said, the past 12 months has shown significantly more awareness around this issue which is good for consumers. Forward thinking companies are putting the time and energy into making their company and customers more secure.
As the courts start to weigh in on this issue and more lawsuits start to come out, people are starting to show what they did as a transaction participant that could’ve mitigated the loss. Participants are holding each other accountable.
Feel free to pass along any or all of this discussion on to your team, partners and customers. Looking for more resources on the topic? Check out the new Coalition to Stop Real Estate Wire Fraud. It is full of videos, facts and figures you can share too.