Updated: Feb 28, 2020
Every day scammers are inventing new ways to rob you of your money. The latest fraud is a $5.2 billion problem worldwide. It is a wire transfer scam that is now affecting the home buying marketplace to the tune of $5.3 million a month.
The Federal Bureau of Investigations has labeled these scams "business email compromise," or BEC. It's not a catchy name, which could be why they've not garnered a lot of attention...but they should. They are frighteningly good scams with terrifyingly bad results.
Initially the issue was discovered in the business sector. Fraudsters target the CEO's and CFO's at various companies and hack their computers. They collect enough information to learn the types of billing the company pays, who the payees are and the average balances paid. They then spoof a customer or, in other words, take their identity, and bill the company with wire transfer instructions to a scam bank account. Check out the video above to see how it's done.
Now, more and more, law enforcement is finding that these wire transfer fraudsters are seeping into the private sector. Their primary target? Prospective home buyers. What they do is tap into an escrow company's computers and lift their emails and current customer database. They then create very real-looking emails requesting that wire transfers be made immediately.
Since most of these scammers are overseas, the next step is to gain access to a U.S. bank account. To do this they will log into a dating site and romance an unsuspecting love interest. Sufficiently bated, they will then ask if the "lover" would be willing to accept an incoming wire to their personal bank account. Once the money hits their "lovers" bank they manipulate the account, take the money...and likely the person's heart.
If you are in the process of an escrow, think you might be, or know someone who is there are several red flags to be aware of.
Check to make sure the email you receive from the escrow company is actually from them. The logo might be askew or missing or you might find misspellings in the body of the email. Finally, many savvy escrow companies will have a notice at the bottom warning customers about these crimes. If your email doesn't have this warning it could be a fake.
The most crucial key in identifying a fraud wire transfer email is its urgency. Scammers will request the transaction be made "today."
"The best way to verify that your escrow wire transfer transaction is legitimate is to pick up the phone and call the escrow company," says Laura Eimiller of Los Angeles' FBI field office. "It's always smart to double check these things on any large transaction," she cautions.
If you've been victimized by a wire transfer fraud, or find yourself with a suspect email, contact your local law enforcement. You can also report the crime to the FBI at the internet crime complaint center, IC3.gov. They receive calls 24/7.