Fighting Back Against Wire Fraud

October 3, 2019

By Cynthia Durham Blair NTP

For many individuals, buying a home can be stressful, confusing, and filled with a lot of paperwork to read, send and sign. In recent years, we’ve seen the rise of a sophisticated type of fraud by a sophisticated type of cyber criminal who preys on those facts.

In this type of fraud, a cyber criminal poses as a real estate agent, title agent, bank employee, lawyer or some other professional involved in the home buying process and send fake account details to scam the home buyer out of earnest money deposits and cash to close.

Regardless of whether the criminal saw a social media post a consumer made or hacked into a company’s computer system, they knew the consumer was ready to buy a house and ready to send money. And the criminal knew how to insert themselves into the process.

As we’ve seen, victims then send wire transfers to the criminals’ accounts—often huge sums of money. FBI data show that in 2018, 11,300 victims across America lost nearly $150 million due to real estate wire fraud—that’s a 166-percent increase in the total money lost compared to 2017. That’s only the tip of the iceberg—the FBI estimates that only 12-15 percent of this fraud is reported.

That’s why ALTA decided to launch the Coalition to Stop Real Estate Wire Fraud earlier this year. Our Coalition will raise awareness and educate consumers—especially potential homebuyers—about how to protect themselves during the homebuying process. We also want to provide concrete steps that people can take to prevent fraud, as well as identify and empower those who have been victimized to tell their stories and advocate for solutions.

It’s important to educate all consumers about the threat of wire transfer fraud, but first-time homebuyers are especially vulnerable to this crime. To help reach this demographic, we’ve targeted six metropolitan areas (Birmingham, Ala.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Virginia Beach, Va., Minneapolis, Minn.; Tampa, Fla.; and Seattle, Wash.) because they are markets where the share of millennial homeownership increased the most from 2016 to 2017. It's an uphill battle to reach consumers, but we've garnered more than 10 million ad impressions so far. In the coming month, we will continue our campaign in Houston and Nashville, Tenn.

I’d like to direct you to our new coalition website where you can learn more about this type of fraud, read more about the partnership, share your stories and experiences with wire fraud, and most importantly, learn how consumers can protect themselves. The website can be found at stopwirefraud.org.

Wire fraud is a national epidemic. It’s vital that we all work together to help protect consumers. We can be the difference between a first-time buyer losing their life savings or getting the keys to their starter home! Let’s continue to be the industry that leads, delivers and protects!

Cynthia Durham Blair is president of ALTA.


Contact ALTA at 202-296-3671 or communications@alta.org.

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