How to Protect Yourself From Real Estate Scams

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If you discover that you are a victim of a fraudulent transfer, it is important to act quickly. “Immediately contact your financial institution and request a recall of funds,” said Kati Daffan, an assistant director in the Federal Trade Commission’s division of marketing practices. “If you used a money transfer company, like Western Union or MoneyGram, call their complaint line right away.”

Also, contact your local F.B.I. office to file an official report with law enforcement, or at the very least, file an online complaint with the bureau’s internet crime complaint center. “If your bank requests a police report, you can use a copy” of the online complaint, Ms. Daffan said.

But some scammers have already anticipated this quick-response defense.

Just before the Fourth of July weekend in 2016, Sherry Ajluni, another Compass agent, was working with a seller to close on a four-bedroom house under contract in a suburb of Atlanta. But the email of the buyer’s agent was hacked. “They made it look as if the agent had sent the buyer wiring instructions for closing, so he could send his funds to the attorney,” Ms. Ajluni said.

The funds, which totaled around $13,000, were instead wired to a fraudulent account just before the banks closed for the holiday, making it impossible for them to be recovered. In this case, the money couldn’t be tracked down. The buyer was able to close on the property only after both agents involved in the deal gave up part of their commissions to make up for the lost money.

“I see a lot of instances of wire fraud taking place toward the holidays and right before the weekends,” said Mark Hakim, a real estate lawyer at Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas L.L.P. “As soon as the banks shut down, there’s little recourse.”

The growing practice of conducting real estate transactions by email means that the legitimate participants have to become more vigilant.

“While you may have taken every precaution in the world to safeguard your email platforms, you never know what measures have been taken on the other end,” Mr. Hakim said. “A broker having a cappuccino at Starbucks might be on their laptop sending sensitive emails using a public Wi-Fi network that’s been intercepted.”

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