When buying or selling Real Estate, communicate directly with the closing attorney regarding any wiring instructions in a manner ensuring you are in fact communicating with the closing attorney and not an impostor.
International criminal organizations attempting to steal large sums of money are targeting email accounts of parties involved in real estate in North Carolina and elsewhere.
To buyers: before sending any wire, you should call the closing attorney’s office to verify the instructions. If you receive wiring instructions for a different bank, branch location, account name or account number, they should be presumed fraudulent. Do not send any funds and contact the closing attorney’s office immediately.
To sellers: if your proceeds will be wired, we recommend you provide wiring instructions at closing in writing in the presence of the attorney. If you are unable to attend closing, you may be required to send an original notarized directive to the closing attorney’s office containing the wiring instructions. This may be sent with the deed, lien waiver and tax forms if those documents are being prepared for you by the closing attorney. At a minimum, you should call the closing attorney’s office to provide the wire instructions. The wire instructions should be verified over the telephone via a call to you initiated by the closing attorney’s office to ensure that they are not from a fraudulent source.
Whether you are a buyer or a seller, you should call the closing attorney’s office at a number that is independently obtained. To ensure that your contact is legitimate, you should not rely on a phone number in an email from the closing attorney’s office, your real estate agent, or anyone else.
Typically, a hacker will gain access to the email account of a buyer or seller, real estate agent, or closing attorney. The email account is then monitored, likely for several weeks, and the hacker actively intervenes once the business practices of the parties are studied and understood and a significant wire transaction is to be produced.
The nature of the scams vary. In some instances, fraudulent wiring instructions for the buyer’s down payment or the full purchase are emailed to the buyer purporting to be from the closing attorney. In other cases, fraudulent instructions for the seller’s sales proceeds are emailed to the closing attorney purporting to be from the seller.
The fraudulent emails are sophisticated and convincing. If followed, large sums of money may be diverted to a criminal’s off-shore bank account and never recovered. Millions of dollars in wires have been illegally diverted from the trust accounts of North Carolina attorneys and from buyers and sellers.
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