E-mail hacking and wire fraud schemes are on the rise in the mortgage industry. In the past few years, homebuyers have been schemed into losing thousands of their hard-earned dollars, and unfortunately, a lot of that money has not been recovered.

So what exactly is wire fraud? It’s a crime in which a person (hacker) creates a scheme to defraud or steal money based on fabricated information. It is common for hackers to gain access to e-mail addresses, whether they are from a settlement agent, title company, realtor or mortgage lender, and impersonate them. The hacker will send an authentic looking e-mail to the borrower with a new set of wire instructions. These wire instructions route the money to a fraudulent bank account rather than the settlement agent’s account. Once the money is out of the borrower’s account, it is very difficult to trace where it was sent, making it tough to recover.

While this is a widespread problem, there are ways borrowers can prevent being schemed into wire fraud.

  • Carefully verify all e-mail addresses on every e-mail received and sent. Hackers will slightly adjust the appearance of an e-mail address to make it seem like an original copy. Even if the signature line and logos are exactly the same, pay attention to the actual e-mail address.
  • Always call the settlement agent to confirm the wire instructions before sending any money. Use a previously known or verified phone number.
  • Instead of wiring money, ask if a certified check or cashier’s check can be brought to closing.
  • If you receive an e-mail changing the wire instructions, call the settlement agent immediately! Wire instructions seldom change. Again, use a previously known or verified number. DO NOT use the phone number in the e-mail with the revised wire instructions, this could be a number directed to the hacker.
  • After wire instructions and have confirmed and money wired, call the settlement agent to confirm the money was received.
  • Instead of having wire instructions sent through e-mail, pick them up from the settlement agent’s office.

If you suspect you have been targeted for wire fraud or something seems out of the ordinary, don’t hesitate to reach out to your loan officer or settlement agent. Raising concern and asking a few extra questions is a lot better than losing thousands of dollars, and most likely losing the house you worked so hard to get.