No doubt the internet is changing the way we live. The technology had a lot of promise when it was first conceptualized: everyone connecting to everyone. Imagine that. It’s too good to be true. But it did pull through. In fact, now more than ever, we realized how essential the internet is to survive as a race, with the virus pounding us.
But the internet is a double-edged sword. You may not realize it but all that connections make you vulnerable to fraud — exactly what happened to Aaron Fisher and his $921,235.10 hard cash.
A psychology professor at UC Berkeley, Aaron is the last person you’d think would be scammed. But he was. And all it took was for fraudsters to make the most of emails. Many would think that communicating via email is safe. But that thought could cost you your precious cash from leaving your hand into thin air.
Lucky for you, many of these unscrupulous individuals follow a pattern. Exposing the pattern, therefore, can go a long way in preventing these crimes from happening. Good thing Aaron is healthy and wise. Or all the money taken from him could have led to a heart attack, leaving his four sons and beautiful wife grieving. But providence says otherwise.
Listed below is a common real estate scam, along with some effective ways to keep the fraudsters at bay.
The Dangers of Real Estate Wire Fraud
Top of the con list is wire fraud. In 2020 alone, the FBI estimates over $220 million have been lost to these schemes. That’s a 13% increase from the year before. And this is what Aaron Fisher got into.
Aaron and Lindsey Fisher were hoping to transfer to their dream home somewhere in Northern California. It was a splendid $1.4 million property with a spacious backyard and a nearby trail that would allow the Fishers time with their four sons. In short, it was just what they wanted.
With a financial windfall from a family inheritance, the Fishers were all set to own it, with but one hiccup. Aaron wired $921,235.10 to the wrong Wells Fargo account. Everything fell apart when they knew they were duped.
Apparently, Aaron was having an email conversation with the legit representatives of the title company and his real estate agent. Along the way, hackers inserted themselves right in the middle of the conversation. So when the fraudsters legit digital copies of the closing documents along with the wiring instructions, the UC Berkeley professor wired the funds — only to realize two days later that it was the fraudster’s account.
Aaron’s case was classic wire fraud. Usually, hackers set up all those things to convince you they’re legit; a seemingly legit website is one. Plus, they’re experts at spoofing. Making email addresses look official.
to catching these crooks is to counter-check their data. And to do that you need to hit the phone. Before you send any money at all, call all the numbers listed in the original documents given by your lender.
Talk to a live person and make sure you verify each wiring instruction. For that matter, avoid clicking any link in an email as it can be a phishing scheme to get your info.
In a way, it also shows how much the right expertise can be handy in tight situations like these. For one, while many real estate agents are reliable, dealing with a certified realtor is an assurance you’re being handled by a top-notch expert. To note, not all real estate agents are realtors but all realtors are fine-tuned. They need to pass through rigorous exams (e.g., ethics).
Lessons from the Scam
Good thing Aaron acted immediately. By some twist of fate, the money was returned by Wells Fargo after two weeks. He didn’t expect it to be in his hands again. Today, he has bought his dream house.
Aaron should have contacted his agents and representatives of the title company before wiring the money. He could have averted the disaster.
Take note that he did his own checking before sending the funds. He opened the PDF file in the email and saw that it contained real closing docs. The numbers were correct with one minor edit: the bank account details.
The money was wired to a real Wells Fargo account though the account name on the email was fraudulent. It was diverted to China. It could have been lost forever. Good thing, by some unexpected turn, the bank was able to get all the money back. In that sense, it was pure luck.
Still, the fact that Aaron contacted the bank and the authorities even after two days from the transaction could have been instrumental. We’ll never know as the bank won’t divulge any customer information.
The important lesson is to double and triple-check before sending any money online. It can save you from shedding crocodile tears and assure you your whole family can rest easy at night, in the home you love.